Number of Language Degrees plummeting

Newcastle University’s Language Hub.
Image: Toby BryantNewcastle University’s Language Hub. Image: Toby Bryant

The number of universities offering language degrees has fallen by 30%, a recent report by UCAS reveals.

The paper points to a rapidly increasing number of closing language departments each year.

Initially, the language degrees that have been unfazed were concentrated in a smaller number of institutions. But with a “collapse of language” in the upper years of secondary school, as Times Higher Education writes, the stream of students who are eager to learn languages is starting to slow.

A recent article by Times Higher Education has also looked into the importance of modern languages degrees in a globalised world. In the article, Lisbeth Verstraete-Hansen from the University of Copenhagen warns “recent developments actually tend to undermine public perceptions of modern languages as legitimate areas of serious academic enquiry”.

Verstraete-Hansen encourages

“those of us working in the field… to be more forceful in communicating to the wider public the value of language and culture studies”.

Times Higher Education notes that language students’ “wishes are very varied” and the array of combined degrees now being offered is a direct reaction to this.

UCAS figures for 2015 highlighted the increasing trend in combined degrees with only 10% of language students opting for single honours whilst another 10% study two or more languages.

The majority of language scholars, according to the report, read languages along with another subject. Humanities remain the most popular accompanying domain, but degrees such as maths and engineering are also popular.

Lorraine Ryan, a lecturer in Hispanic studies at the University of Birmingham, writes of the “gloom” surrounding Modern Languages in the UK, especially after the vote to leave the European Union – yet she remains optimistic.

Despite recognising that the number of UK school students taking at least one modern language by the age of 16 declined from 55 to 22% between 1995 and 2013, the existence of Routes into Languages programmes, which aim to encourage more schoolchildren to take languages, are positive.

For example, Nottingham Trent University’s Bespoke GCSE Language Programme endeavours to clear the perception that the study of modern languages is reserved for “privileged students in “elite” universities”. Since its initiation in 2008 it has led to a 95% increase in the uptake of GCSEs in French and German at participating schools.

In turn, Nottingham Trent University has enjoyed a 61% rise in the number of students on its modern languages course between 2008 and 2014.

Schemes like this are plentiful around the U.K. with events such as The Great Languages Bake Off, led by The North East Routes into Languages Consortium, and the Language Factor Song Competition also aiming to increase interest in modern languages.

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