The British Academy has joined forces with the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Education and Employers Taskforce and leading businesses to steer a major research programme designed to rescue the country from “a colourless monoglot future”.
Born Global: Rethinking Language Policy for 21st Century Britain, which will run until July 2015, is designed to bridge the yawning gap between “years of declining capability in language competence in education” and “recurrent reports of high levels of employer demand for language skills”.
It hopes to “inform government language policy development, the current national curriculum review for England and future developments in higher education language curricula and assessment”.
‘Co-owners’ of education
At the university level, the numbers studying languages have been falling for years.
Ucas figures for “placed applicants by subject group” show a decline of close to 11 per cent for European languages between 2009 and 2013 (from 4,130 to 3,680) and around 16.5 per cent for non-European languages (from 1,340 to 1,120).
Richard Hardie, non-executive chair of financial services firm UBS, is chair of the Born Global steering group.
Launching the project at the company’s London headquarters on 23 September, he spoke of “the need to fix the language supply chain into education” and for employers to become “co-owners of the educational curriculum”.
The data now being gathered by Born Global should certainly help “rescue future generations from a colourless monoglot future”, he added.
Principal researcher Bernardette Holmes, a programme director at the University of Cambridge’s Language Centre, noted that the British language deficit meant that UK employers often looked overseas when recruiting vital staff.
The scholar asked: “Are our young people only fit for lower-grade jobs?”
With the British Chambers of Commerce wanting to “ensure that the next generation of business owners are ‘born global’”, it was time “to make the rhetoric count” through “a research-informed strategy”, she argued.
Compare and contrast
Born Global will consult with “a representative sample of employers over a two-year period” in order to “elaborate a conceptual framework to map language competence, identifying the range of knowledge, skills and understanding required to function effectively from administrative to executive levels”, according to an information pack on the project.
It will also follow a sample of young people with language qualifications at GCSE level, A level and university, and “compare their employment outcomes in areas such as earnings and employment periods” with people from similar backgrounds and attainment who lack such qualifications.