2,600 students started a French degree in 2012/13. Two years later it was half thatby Alex Dean / October 27, 2016 / Leave a comment
In our September issue, Richard Dawkins proposed his own remedy for our “monoglottish disgrace.” Read it here
In October last year, to outcry from the global academic community, the University of Northumbria announced it would no longer be offering French and Spanish at undergraduate level. The reason, the university explained, was the “fall in demand across the sector over the past 10 years.” The university’s students’ union criticised the decision in stark terms, shocked that it had decided to “abolish our only standalone foreign language programme.” The closure came despite the department’s impressive standing: it ranked 13th out of 61 university departments (and first among post-92 institutions) for modern languages and linguistics in the UK last year.
Northumbria is not the only British university that has struggled to recruit students onto language degrees recently. Ulster announced the closure of its entire modern languages school last year, citing lack of demand. This means that soon, no university in Northern Ireland will offer German at undergraduate level. In 2013 Salford closed nearly all of its modern foreign language (MFL) courses. And the examples go on.
The explanation for these closures is simple (though preventing more will be anything but.) The number of students studying an MFL at a British university is plummeting. In 2012/13, 2,600 students started a French degree. In 2014/15 it was 1,400. The figure for Italian is even worse: it has fallen from 780 to 240 over the same length of time. The increased popularity of some individual languages has not nearly compensated.
Language learning, never our national strongpoint, is in an unprecedented crisis. Is this a symptom of Britain retreating into its shell, as evidenced by its vote to “Leave” the European Union on 23rd June? Is anything being done to get students studying German, Russian, Middle Eastern Studies again? Will it work?
Certainly, the statistics are stark when it comes to higher education and, given language graduates are tomorrow’s teachers and translators, these figures present the biggest immediate problem. But the problem does not begin here; it begins far earlier in the education system.
In September 2004, the Labour government and then-Education Minister Estelle Morris…