The Russell Group of elite universities was urged this week to consider adopting last week's decision by one of its members, University College London, to insist that all its undergraduates have a GCSE language qualification from 2012.
Lord Dearing, who is leading a review of language teaching in schools amid concerns of a "severe fall" in the number of pupils taking foreign language courses, told The Times Higher this week that it would be "useful" for the Russell Group to consider making the move a policy for all 20 of its members.
He said: "I'm not saying that they should follow UCL, as the last thing they'll want is someone telling them what to do, but I think it would be very helpful if they looked at it."
Lord Dearing published his interim report on languages last week. The report was too late to cover the UCL announcement, but it did note that in Ireland, where the two main universities have made language qualifications an entry requirement, language take-up in schools is much higher.
The report identifies a key role for universities in improving languages provision in secondary schools.
It proposes summer schools, short immersion courses and the mentoring of school pupils by university students as possible collaborative initiatives between schools and higher education institutions that could help to improve language teaching and raise the numbers of pupils continuing language study post 14.
Since 2004, when study of a modern foreign language ceased to be mandatory after the age of 14, the proportion of students taking language subjects has fallen to 51 per cent. The number of pupils taking a language to A level has declined similarly, dropping by 10,000 in the past ten years to 28,000.