The number of universities offering foreign language degrees has dramatically dropped by 40% over the past 15 years, according to UCAS course listings.
In 1998, 93 universities offered specialist language degrees compared to 56 currently and since 2007, 11 universities have stopped offering any language degrees at all. German is the language most affected, with only half of universities offering this subject compared to 15 years ago.
Language departments are more costly compared to other subjects. Staffing is specific to each language so members of staff across the department cannot step in for others. As a result, a wider variety of language teachers is required in these departments. Without the interests of students, it becomes hard to justify the costs of a great number of staff.
Michael Kelly, head of Modern Languages at the University of Southampton, has said that it has become “uneconomic” to teach the variety of courses required, and that “university managers are increasingly reluctant to continue supporting loss-making departments.”
Nicola McLelland, head of the University of Nottingham German department, draws attention to the fact that the languages department at Nottingham is not neglecting those students who want to study languages. The German department recently introduced Beginner’s German which can be taken as part of a combined degree or as a subsidiary module. The less-studied language Slovene is also an option. In fact, Nottingham is the only UK university that offers this language.
Languages should not be a skill of the ‘elite’
One factor cited in the decline of interest in languages over previous years has been due to the fact that languages are optional at GCSE level and the number of pupils choosing to study them dropped. However, after the introduction of the English Baccalaureate in 2010, (which students can obtain if they get a C grade in English, Maths, History/Geography, the sciences and a language) more secondary school pupils are choosing to study a language.
The UCAS listings also revealed that increasingly, language degrees are pursued by a small elite of the best educated students. Russell Group universities offer most of the remaining single-honours degrees and three-quarters of Italian degrees, two-thirds of German and half of French and Spanish studies degrees are taught at Russell Group institutions.
Rachael Stanmore, a Nottingham student studying Spanish, French and Russian told Impact that: “Languages should not be a skill of the ‘elite’, they are about being able to communicate – and through reducing the number of language degrees UK universities have to offer, it is hindering people from being able to effectively communicate with others.”
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