Disinfrenchised: Students forced to drop modules

Published

Dionne Doherty

French honours students have found their course options dramatically narrowed as reductions in staff have left the department unable to offer its normal range of modules.

Third year students following a joint honours course and those taking French with Law were spared from dropping a module, but those in senior honours were left with only one module in the French half of their degree.

The French department informed its students by email that, with the loss of half of its staff since 2000 and the honours convenor on sick leave, it would be necessary for some students to drop one of their modules. The department is adamant that the loss of staff has not been due to the rumoured funding cuts, but is a result of retirement and in some cases, illness.

The email, from senior lecturer Dr. Jim Simpson, included a declaration for students to complete and send back, confirming the module they wished to drop, and their agreement with the proposed doubling of the weighting of the final translation exam to compensate for lost credits. The latter decision was taken after consultation with external examiners.

Students were informed of the necessity of dropping a module during the summer, but the news came too late for many who had already purchased books for all of their intended modules. One senior honours student finding herself in this situation asked not to be named, but expressed her exasperation.

She said: “I feel almost like I’ve been punished for being prepared. Ideally I’d like some sort of reimbursement for the money I’ve wasted, but it doesn’t look likely.”

Another joint honours student, entering her final year, told Guardian that she is now worrying about how her degree will be affected.

She explained: “Obviously the department has been backed into a corner, to have taken such a drastic step, but I feel that only being allowed to take one module this year has denied me of the breadth of knowledge that previous graduates will have gained. I’m also worried my degree mark will be affected by the translation exam being worth more.”

In his email to students, Dr Simpson made it clear that staff would not allow students to be disadvantaged, and that in fact, the shift in emphasis better reflects the amount of preparation students put into their translation exams. Dr Simpson is one of several members of staff who have agreed to do a small amount of teaching despite being on study leave, so that the maximum number of classes can go ahead.

Head of Section, Dr Billy Grove, admitted that the recent restructuring of the School of Modern Languages and Culture (SMLC) as a whole has contributed to the problem, but that the French department is now on a more positive track.

He told Guardian: “The situation is better than when the email was circulated. The decision to reduce the number of modules was made to ensure that the modules which are available are of the best quality possible.”

When informed of the plight of those students who had already purchased books for modules they were no longer able to take, Dr Grove promised that enquiries would be made to the university’s on-campus bookshop, John Smith’s, about accepting the return of books, given the exceptional circumstances.

He claimed that negotiations are now taking place with the Dean of the University to address the staff shortage and emphasised that the situation would definitely improve.

He said: “I’m in talks with the Dean and the future of the French Department looks very rosy.”

The year-group currently starting their senior honours year has experienced disruption to their studies in the past: in 2006, during their 2nd year, the chaos of the national lecturers’ strike led to the end-of-year oral examinations being cancelled.

This has meant that the students affected will face their final oral examinations this year having sat only one French oral exam in their whole university career. Professor Keith Reader, the current honours convenor, maintained that the lecturers’ strike occurred nationally rather than locally and was therefore a different issue from the current situation.