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Chinese courses to end at 'Confucius' university

LAUNCH: Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness attended the launch of UU’s Confucius Institute in 2012

ALL Chinese language courses are to end at a university chosen to help foster closer ties between China and the north.

Massive budget reductions mean Ulster University plans to shut down its school of modern languages. It is also ending stand-alone maths degrees as part of cuts that will see as many as 70 different courses go across six subject areas.

Higher education cuts are forcing it to shed up to 1,200 student places, while 210 staff will leave. The four-campus university has had its annual budget reduced by almost £9 million.

Chinese is among five subjects taught in the school of modern languages. UU has confirmed there are no plans to retain the subject in any other school even though the university has developed strong links with China in recent years.

Just three years ago, UU was selected to be home to a prestigious Confucius Institute, which works to promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture.

In addition, it facilitates the training of language teachers, cultural and academic exchanges and research into China's education system, economy, the arts and society.

Unions remain angry, meanwhile, at the university's plans for voluntary redundancies when entire departments are facing closure.

The University and College Union (UCU) said management had a legal responsibility to consult with recognised unions on redundancy proposals and course closures.

"We are angry and frustrated that management are presenting as a fait accompli what are only proposals," said Anthea Irwin, president of UCU at UU.

"Students have arrived full of excitement about discussing courses that they were planning to apply for, and they don't understand the reasons for the proposed closures. Neither do staff, because management have failed to provide us with any rationale.

"UCU continues to challenge management to fulfil its obligations to consult meaningfully and come up with a set of proposals that protect the future of our young people's education and avoid job losses."

Unite said its membership would soon be discussing its response to cuts which could include a ballot for industrial action.

Sean Smyth, Unite's officer with responsibility for membership at UU, said there was a lack of clarity over the scale of job losses and faculty closures.

"Given the scale of job losses, there is a legal requirement for management to issue a formal notice of consultation providing a business case of their plans. Despite our repeated requests, they have failed to provide this or to formally engage with staff or Unite representatives," he said.

"Workers have been left in the dark over just how many jobs will be lost and the impact on the various faculties within the university."

A university spokeswoman said unions were appraised of the proposals in late August, ahead of meetings with staff in affected areas.

"The university is fully committed to meeting its obligations in terms of the consultation process and statutory requirements," she said.

"The university will be meeting with the joint unions presently, again in line with its normal protocols as part of the process."

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