Students from a world-renowned language centre – which Birmingham City Council claims is based in an ‘unviable’ building – say it is being deliberately run down.
The Brasshouse Language Centre, in Sheepcote Street, off Broad Street, is based in a historic 1931 building designed by city architects Crouch, Butler & Savage.
But the council admitted recently to the Post that it wants to move the service, which currently teaches more than 30 languages.
It described the current building – formerly the headquarters of South Staffordshire Water Company – as ‘unviable’ but said there were no plans to halt classes.
Now students have contacted the Post, claiming the centre is being starved of funds, that quality is in decline and that senior management figures were not being replaced.
Sheila Ward said: “There has been an increasing feeling that it was being allowed to run down deliberately to the point where someone, at some stage, would declare that it could not continue.
“Many might say that the building is possibly the least of the problems faced by Brasshouse.
“A building can be refurbished or an alternative venue found, but there are more fundamental issues which are not as easy to solve.
“I believe many would agree that they stem from an apparent desire by the officers appointed by politicians to treat it as ‘just another local Adult Education Centre’, and a failure to recognise its important role as a regional centre of excellence for modern foreign languages.”
Mrs Ward said the Head of Centre role had not been replaced and also many other experienced, enthusiastic and skilled senior staff had also departed.
She added: “Decisions appear to be taken centrally for the entire adult education Service which are not appropriate for the development of better foreign language skills.
“There has been a totally predictable reduction in the range and levels of languages on offer which can be attributed to decisions taken by those with little knowledge of or apparent interest in the valuable contribution the work of this centre can make to the regeneration and development of international trade in the whole region. There are many who believe that much more could be done to preserve this ‘jewel in the crown’ before it is too late.”
Student Catherine Liddicott, a former lecturer in Languages (French) for Business, reiterated the importance of an adult education centre specialising in languages in the middle of Britain’s second city.
She added: “Nowhere else has it been possible to find courses in such a wide range of languages, many of them offered at a range of levels.
“Such a centre needs to be centrally situated in the city so that people in outlying areas can reach it without too much trouble by bus or train, as well as by car, but of course, an increasing number of people also live close to the city centre.
“The state of language learning in this country is pitiful and does not, at the moment, fulfil Britain’s business, academic, social, diplomatic and military needs. It seems to me that Birmingham cannot afford to ignore the efforts that have been made in the past at the Brasshouse centre to contribute to this aspect of life in the city and should seek to encourage its population to be as well-educated and outward-looking as possible in the future.”
Entrepreneur Simon Nicholls said he strongly opposed the council cutting senior posts at the Brasshouse by 50 per cent.
He said: “This action is brainless and destructive to an almost incredible degree. This excellent language school has done wonderful work, as I have good reason to know, and attracted countless students, both foreign visitors and UK residents.
“How very typical that such a first-rate institution should fall victim to the money-men and the bean-counters. Who needs foreign visitors to be able to learn English, or the English to learn foreign languages? What’s the advantage of that?”
A spokeswoman for Birmingham City Council admitted some staff had not been replaced, but was unable to provide exact figures.
She said: “Adult education is funded by central government through the Skills Funding Agency. Cuts to this funding over the last four years has meant we have not replaced senior managers in order to ensure we retain the teaching and learning service.
“We have not cut any teachers and the only languages no longer taught are a small number of niche languages for which there have not been sufficient learners.
“We continue to offer as wide a range of languages as we can and remain committed to the internationally recognised Brasshouse service. It is the building that is not viable in the long-term and we are currently looking at alternative options.”