Gift of tongues freely taken

March 1, 2012

"Arts and humanities offer Hobson's choice" (23 February) paints a gloomy and misleading picture of the health of modern languages in UK universities. The University and College Union survey Choice Cuts: How Choice Has Declined in Higher Education simply misreports the availability of French and German: in the North East, for instance, both are available as single or combined honours subjects at Durham and Newcastle universities.

More broadly, recruitment to language degrees in UK universities has increased every year since 2004. Students from other disciplines taking language courses have never been more numerous (with a year-on-year increase of up to 30 per cent in many cases), as they recognise the boost to employability that languages offer and universities see the links to internationalisation.

Despite the disincentive of additional costs for four-year degrees including years abroad, the fall in applications for 2012 entry may not translate into fewer admissions (for example, the 35 per cent decline in applications for Japanese looks like a tsunami effect), and will probably be at worst a temporary setback, as the future looks much more promising.

The English Baccalaureate has already boosted the numbers taking language GCSEs and a revised and more attractive curriculum is on its way. New language A levels are being designed to maintain motivation and prepare students specifically for university. We are confident that the growing recognition of the need for graduate language skills promises a bright future for modern languages in UK universities.

Jim Coleman, The Open University, Chair, University Council of Modern Languages

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