Slump in students studying foreign languages

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Fresh evidence of a slump in the number of students studying foreign languages at university has been revealed, sparking new 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 last year, a drop of 14 per cent 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 per cent. 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 per cent 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.