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Harsh words for modern languages



The bachelor of arts degree at UFV will follow a new set of requirements in the fall, including the completion of what is called a secondary language competency. But issues have been raised by members of the modern languages department about the current way that some language courses are offered, and how they may disadvantage students.

At their last meeting, UFV Senate discussed their 2017/18 budget, which at this point doesn’t include the reimplementation of funds that were cut five years ago.

In 2013, budget cuts led to five language courses having the seminar portion of class disbanded. According to Teresa Arróliga-Piper, department head of modern languages, these cuts are unfair to students, especially with the increase in demand for modern languages courses that comes with the new BA requirements.

“We are putting at risk, the second language requirement, we are putting at risk the students’ success,” she said.

The new second language competency requires students to have completed one of several criteria, such as a high-school grade 11 second language course, language immersion program, or any UFV modern languages 101 course or higher, among other options.

The issue is that only three of the eight modern language courses are accompanied by seminar classes, the conversational side of language learning. According to Arróliga-Piper, the seminars are important for second language education.

Modern Languages used to offer seminars in all of their courses, but as part of its budgetary cuts in 2013, language seminars were cut in five languages: Punjabi, Mandarin, German, Russian and Halq’eméylem. Seminars were retained for three languages at UFV: French, Spanish, and Japanese.

“I am very distraught and I’m very concerned, I want to recommend that modern languages should be supported to have the seminars restored in five of the languages, and it’s not really very costly,” said Arróliga-Piper. “And it is very valuable for student success and student retention.”

Arróliga-Piper explained that even before the 2013 cuts, instructors were paid less than faculty to teach the seminars. The seminars fall under a different contract than classes do and only pay staff rates, which is about $20 per hour. It ended up being the faculty who taught seminars, for a reduced rate, because according to the union collective agreement, anyone being brought in to work must work a minimum of four hours, and the seminar is only a 55-minute block.

Seminars are offered in conjunction with language classes, similar to the lab component of a science class, and cutting them has increased the unpaid workload of the sessional instructors of these languages who have given their own time to make up for the loss of their formally paid class hours. To compensate for having no seminars, instructors have had to spent more time with students during office hours and outside of class.

Now with the new BA requirement, Arróliga-Piper said that in order to be fair to students, funding should be restored so that UFV can provide language seminars for all languages and all students.

“Since 2013 we have been putting students at a disadvantage because we are not treating them equally,” said Arróliga-Piper. “People who are coming to learn Mandarin should be treated equally to those learning the main three languages.”

However, the offerings of modern languages is matched against the demand for seats in the program, according to Jacqueline Nolte, dean of the college of arts.

“Funding for Modern Languages has been stable since 2014 / 2015 year. This is again the case in the 2017/18 budget,” she said in an email. “While the evolution of the Bachelor of Arts degree does place emphasis on a second language, the demand for seats in language classes has not increased. Should the demand rise we will certainly evaluate that demand, consult with faculty, and if required, make adjustments.”

According to the UFV institutional research and planning 2015/16 factbook, modern languages saw an increase of full-time student enrolment (FTE) of 124 in 2011/10 to 135 in both 2011/12 and 2012/13, then a steady decline every year since, with 117 FTE in 2015/16.

The funding issue

The funding issue is one that all B.C. institutions experience. Funding for universities comes from the government at the provincial level. Universities receive funding, then decide where to allot the money.

Provincial legislation forces B.C. universities to balance their budgets, which means that when the provincial government doesn’t provide enough funding, they either have to cut programs or find other sources of income to stay balanced.

A report from the Federation of Post Secondary Educators (FPSE), released September 2016, says that since 2001, real per-student operating grants, “the government’s most direct form of support for public post-secondary institutions,” have dropped by 27 per cent, after adjusting for inflation.

The report goes on to say that even despite the two per cent per year cap on university tuition increases, student costs continue to grow because institutions “find other ways to bypass the cap.” A UFV-specific example could be the Experiential Learning and Wellness fee, which charges $2.79 per credit course, on top of tuition.

In an article from the Vancouver Sun, George Davison, president of the FPSE, said that institutions are receiving a lower percentage of their total budgets from government funding. As a result, colleges and universities are cutting programming, increasing the numbers of international students (who pay a much higher tuition), or looking for other sources of funding.

According to Statistics Canada, full-time undergraduate students paid 3.2 per cent more on average in tuition for the 2015/16 year than they did the previous year. The increase is only slightly lower than the 3.3 per cent rise seen in the 2014/15 year.

Above tuition, compulsory fees paid by undergraduate students increased 2.8 per cent in 2015/16 from the previous year. On average, students paid $838 in additional compulsory fees.

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