Here we go again — the UK has had problems with its students learning (or not learning) foreign languages in K-12 but now it’s the undergraduates who are encountering similar issues. What can be done? How can this decline be curbed?
Following article from The Telegraph, November 8, 2013:
A slump in the number of students studying foreign languages at university has been revealed, sparking fears over the UK’s ability to compete with other nations.
In total, 4,842 people were accepted on to UK degree courses to study the subjects in 2012 a drop of 14% on the year before.
The figures were cited by Steve Egan, interim chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) at the organisation’s annual meeting.
He said: ”One thing that everybody seems to raise with me is modern foreign languages. That’s seen a reduction of 14%. That’s not just to do with the tuition fee regime, it may be do with reforms that have happened in the school system, it may be to do with other factors.
”But there is an issue with modern foreign languages. To what extent do we think it’s right that our country should be producing 14% fewer graduates in modern foreign languages? Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Should we care? And if we care, what should we do about it?”
Statistics published by admissions service Ucas show that as of August 30, 3,980 people had been placed to study degrees related to European languages, compared with 4,050 at the same point last year and 4,580 in 2009.
Around 1,250 people had been placed to study subjects relating to non-European languages, compared with 1,220 last year and 1,460 in 2009.
Last year was the first year of the tuition fee hike, and fewer people applied to university overall.
The figures come amid concerns that some university language departments are being forced to close amid a lack of demand.
In the last decade there has been a steady decline in the number of pupils taking languages at GCSE, a fall that began soon after the last government abolished the requirement for teenagers to study a language to GCSE in 2002.
The coalition Government has brought in a new requirement for seven to 11-year-olds in England to be taught a language in primary schools and introduced the English Baccalaureate, which recognises students who gain at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, science, history or geography and a foreign language.
This summer, the slump in uptake of modern languages in schools halted, with an increase in the numbers of pupils taking GCSEs in languages such as French, German and Spanish.Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: ”If students are not studying relevant subjects in secondary education, they are unlikely to choose to follow these subjects into higher education.”
She added: ”There is clear evidence that graduates in these subjects make a substantial contribution to the economy, and that assuring provision in these areas is strongly in the national interest.”
John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council said: ”However much as an English-speaking nation we might want to avoid it, languages are vital for the UK’s future in the world.
”All the global trends mean we need many, many more students to learn – and get out and use – many more foreign languages. If that doesn’t happen, employers are consistently telling us they won’t have what they need – and this can only be bad news for the UK’s competitiveness and ability to connect with the world.”