Edinburgh universities at the forefront of BSL education in Scotland



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Today, 23rd September, the capital’s four universities are marking their collaborative success in leading the development of British Sign Language and deaf studies in Scotland and across the UK.

On the International Day of Sign Languages, Heriot-Watt, Queen Margaret, Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier universities will come together at an event held in the National Museum of Scotland. The evening presents an opportunity to celebrate the work that all four universities are engaged in and to formally recognise the future potential of collaboration in further strengthening BSL and deaf studies education and research.

With a wealth of expertise across of range of educational areas including initial teacher education, adult learners, interpreter training and research in deaf studies, it demonstrates that Edinburgh’s universities are at the forefront of embedding British Sign Language into higher education in Scotland and the UK.

The launch of the universities’ collaborative identity as EdSign and the formal signing of a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ will provide an opportunity for each institution to showcase its individual areas of expertise. Importantly, the event will not only highlight key areas of specialism but will focus on the strength of partnership and the collective will to keep pushing the boundaries of BSL within higher education in the UK.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Williams said: “Even before the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015, Heriot-Watt University has had a long-standing commitment to support BSL teaching and the training of BSL/English interpreters since 1995, and with the growth of our mixed deaf-hearing academic team and associated researchers and PhD students we are now positioned internationally as a leading University in the fields of BSL and Deaf Studies. As a Centre of Excellence in BSL we are keen to encourage more deaf students to attend university and, regardless of which university they choose, that it is a deaf and BSL friendly space. Every Scottish university has their own BSL Local Plan and Heriot-Watt has recently completed a concerted fundraising effort to support more deaf students into university as part of our plan. This cooperative agreement across the four Edinburghbased universities reinforces our commitment to BSL and Deaf Studies, and to making Scotland the best place for deaf and BSL users to live, work, visit and study.”

Sir Paul Grice, Principal of Queen Margaret University, said: “The BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 reinforces Scotland’s ability to position itself as a world-leading country in the provision of education relating to BSL. We have been determined to excel in our individual areas of expertise - at Queen Margaret University, that has been to provide online postgraduate level education which upskills registered sign language interpreters, helping them to further develop their practice in their specialist areas; as well as embedding BSL into Queen Margaret University’s primary teaching and paramedic science degrees. But by promoting co-operation, collectively our four universities can help strengthen our ambitious plans for inclusive learning, teaching and research and improve the delivery of education and support for BSL users in Scotland and beyond.”

Professor Kim Graham, Provost of the University of Edinburgh, said: “This important agreement cements the four Edinburgh universities’ joint ambition to continue to lead the development of BSL and deaf studies. The University of Edinburgh is proud to have a comprehensive BSL plan, with an experienced BSL Development Officer working with colleagues to drive this forward at pace. We are pleased to have BSL for credit and a new undergraduate degree in primary education with BSL underway. We also have an exciting curriculum glossary project for schools and a new sign linguist to be appointed. These activities complement initiatives at our partner universities, with sharing of best practice further ensuring that together we make Scotland an attractive, welcoming and inclusive place for BSL and deaf studies students.”

Professor Andrea Nolan, Principal & Vice Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University, said: “We have welcomed the opportunity to make Edinburgh Napier more accessible to deaf students and staff, and hope this milestone BSL agreement will help to maintain and develop our inclusive culture.

“Following the passing of the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015, our BSL plan makes clear this commitment to assist its users through higher education. It includes a series of long-term goals, such as supporting students who use BSL throughout their student journey and improving access to key information at our campuses.

“We look forward to working with our fellow Edinburgh-based institutions to improve the university experience of BSL users. By co-operating and sharing our knowledge and resources, this will help us all advance the provision of learning, teaching and research for those who rely on it.”

The Memorandum of Understanding, signed by senior officials of Queen Margaret University, University of Edinburgh, Heriot Watt University, and Edinburgh Napier University, will be celebrated at a special evening event on 23rd September at the National Museum of Scotland.


Susan Kerr