The next Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University has been appointed. She is Professor April McMahon who’s currently a Vice Principal at Edinburgh University. Prof McMahon will take up her role in August.
At a bilingual university, the language spoken by the people at the top always becomes an issue and a few months ago, language campaigners belonging to the Welsh Language Society criticised a decision by university chiefs not to insist on the new VC being a Welsh speaker.
They saw a worrying precedent in the appointment of Professor John Hughes as vice-chancellor at Bangor: a non-Welsh speaker who promised to learn the language.
Those campaigners may well feel their fears were justified: Professor McMahon isn’t a Welsh speaker but is pledging to learn it over the coming months.
However she shows every prospect of learning it successfully: the press release announcing her appointment notes that she already ‘speaks French, German and some Scottish Gaelic.’
Certainly the Guild of Students isn’t concerned. President Jon Antionazzi told me that he has ‘every confidence’ in her ability to learn Welsh.
What’s more he has ‘every faith in her ability to steer (the university) through the difficult period ahead.’
That’s an understatement. Prof McMahon joins at a time when budget cuts are on the cards for universities here in Wales and mergers are the most likely option; so much so that some are already talking about the time when Bangorystwyth becomes a reality.
I’ve put a call into the Welsh language society and will update when I get their response.
* UPDATE 15:25
Ffred Ffransis, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s education spokesperson said:
“It must be April Fool’s Day today. Unfortunately, universities more than ever before, in Bangor as well as Aberystwyth, are trying to compete in a market instead of concentrating on providing education that meets the need of the local community and Wales as a whole.
“We want to see these institutions, especially Aberystwyth and Bangor, administrate internally through the medium of Welsh – that should be the test of any language policy. With that as the aim, fluent Welsh-speaking vice-Chancellors are essential, and then problems like this wouldn’t arise.”