Tag Archive for 'teaching'

Demise of languages and humanities teaching at Imperial College

Below is the full text of my letter to Felix, published 5 June 2009. (I would link to it but I think it was only published in their print edition.)

Dear Editor,

I was saddened to read in the Times Higher Education Supplement that Imperial is massively cutting back its provision of languages and humanities tuition.

The opportunity to broaden study options was one of the reasons I, and I’m sure many other IC students and alumni, chose to go to Imperial. Engineers and scientists at other universities tend to just get a handful of frankly boring management courses. As a practising engineer I can confirm that the wide opportunity to study languages and humanities produces more rounded graduates better equipped to fulfill the leadership roles required in today’s multi-disciplinary and multi-functional workplaces. It’s something I’ve always considered just as important as the wide range of student clubs, societies and sports.

Language tuition is also essential to widen students’ opportunities for a year abroad or overseas internship. Many of my friends at IC were able to pursue these. In every case it contributed much to their personal development. Most had not studied the language before university and would therefore have been excluded under the new plans.

Imperial’s provision is, I believe, unique for science students in the UK; but not amongst the Ivy League institutions that we now know the Rector is so keen to emulate. It’s perhaps worth noting that the condemned Roman History module was introduced at IC in 2005, in response to MIT announcing that it was their most popular option amongst their engineering students.

Perusing Felix online I was surprised to see a comment that languages are seen as a soft option. That might be true of a small number of students who cover up their existing language proficiency but it’s an extraordinary generalisation to make. I’m sure most students whose natural talent is in numerate, scientific disciplines find both language and essay-type subjects difficult and hard work. Certainly I found my French, Italian and political philosophy courses much harder than any engineering module. I know it’s been a couple of years since I graduated but we always used to consider the management courses as the noddy ones: does anone seriously think “accounting” is even in the same league as “fluid dynamics”?

I know protests have been planned. I hope IC students are able to reverse these plans and the College is able to find a way to keep humanities and languages alive.

Mustafa Arif
DoC / EEE 1999-2003
IC Union President 2003-2005