Hundreds of students and lecturers staged a protest after the shock announcement their university planned to close a course ranked among the best in Britain.

The rally was called at the University of Sussex's campus in Falmer, Brighton, yesterday to fight the cost-cutting decision to scrap its linguistics courses.

The scenes echoed high profile protests at the university in 2006 led by Nobel prize-winner Professor Harry Kroto which forced it to halt plans to axe its highly regarded chemistry department.

Students said they were appalled at the decision to close the linguistics unit which was made by the university's senate with no consultation.

Dan Higgins, president of the University of Sussex students' union (USSU), said: "Instead of cutting linguistics, the University should be investing in it, supporting the brilliant tutors that they have on those courses and continuing to enable students to study what they want to study.”

He said the news had been revealed to potential students who had been accepted onto the courses just days before they were due to attend an admissions day.

The university said the linguistics courses, which have been ranked second best in the country by the Independent newspaper, were being axed so it could develop research elsewhere in its English faculty.

Earlier this month it revealed it had suffered a £500,000 cut in its funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

It said the 55 current linguistics students would be able to complete their courses and talks were being held with the area's seven employees.

At least one post will be cut before the Autumn term, while the remainder will face a review when the undergraduates have all finished in 2011. Further redundancies have not been ruled out.

Meetings will be held with students in the first week of the summer term.

Dr Steve Burman, the university's dean of humanities, said: "Making changes to programmes in any area of academic activity is not easy and we have not taken the decision lightly to move our future focus of research and teaching in this way.

"We believe it is in the best interests of the department."

Paul Cecil, president of the Sussex branch of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), said the move followed two years after the university had merged its independent department of English Language and Linguistics with the department of English.

He said at the time that action was billed as helping to secure the future of the subjects in Sussex.

Mr Cecil said: "Management are now reneging on the undertakings then given to senate and council. UCU will be working closely with colleagues to reverse this unconstitutional and unacceptable assault on our members."

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