University culls Portugese

The University of Otago will halt the teaching of 100 level papers in Portuguese in 2012, after perennially low enrolment figures meant that teaching the subject had become financially untenable.

Portuguese papers have been offered at the University since 2003 through the Department of Languages and Culture, but the subject has never proved popular. Figures provided by the University showed that the seven papers offered in the subject had a total enrolment of just 11 Equivalent Fulltime Students (EFTS). The average enrolment in papers had declined to just 1.25 EFTS from the already meagre levels of 2.55 EFTS.
The 1.25 EFTS figure suggests that the average paper was attracting around 9-10 students. In a practical sense this means that Portuguese is an incredibly expensive option to offer to students, since the fixed costs of offering papers would have been spread across very few students, even at the 100 level.
Whilst the department said that the decision to cut the 100 level papers, and thus effectively end the programme for the immediate future, was not purely financial, it did acknowledge that this was a “significant consideration”. The papers in Portuguese had received funding from non-University sources, but the lack of students meant that even with this external funding, the papers were still requiring significant subsidy from the department and the Division of Humanities. It added that the enrolments in the subject had been “disappointingly low” across the life of the programme.
In response to a question on whether the cuts would force students wishing to study the subject to attend other institutions, the department stated that they “have seen no evidence that any students come to Otago specifically because of Portuguese.”
The department stated that papers would continue to be offered at 200 and 300 levels to allow students currently pursuing a qualification in Portuguese to finish their studies.
The halting of the programme neatly encapsulates the dichotomy facing administrators when dealing with smaller programmes. Whilst many papers with low enrolments are valuable additions to the academic teachings of the University, it is often difficult to justify the high relative cost per student of providing papers with tiny enrolments, especially when the fees charged are generally identical to those paid by the huge classes of first year health science, law and commerce students.
Posted 4:23am Monday 10th October 2011 by Gregor Whyte.