Imperial College London is cutting back its foreign-language teaching provision with the loss of up to 20 jobs. All beginners' language courses are to go, while courses in Arabic, Italian, Japanese and Russian are to close completely by 2010-11.
Pre-GCSE-level classes in French, German, Spanish and Mandarin are also being axed. Students may still take language evening classes, but will have to pay for them and they will not count towards their degrees.
The academics affected by the cuts have reacted with outrage, pointing out that, in 2008-09, 1,350 students took language courses and many applicants had to be turned away.
An unsigned letter sent to students said languages were being chopped back to make room for ethics and science communication courses. "Students will no doubt wish to be informed of these forthcoming cuts in case they wish to protest against them while there is still time," the letter said.
One Imperial academic said: "The decision to scrap four important languages in the second stage was taken in a completely arbitrary way with virtually no consultation."
An Imperial spokeswoman said a review of humanities teaching had concluded that the "complexity and diversity" of its provision had "led to a lack of clarity about its purpose and place in supporting the strategic needs of the college".
She said the college was responding to calls from faculty for a stronger emphasis on particular areas, and said staff consultation would continue.
Several other universities are facing shortfalls in language budgets following funding allocations that saw science benefit at the expense of the humanities.
The University of Edinburgh is cutting £200,000 from its language faculty's annual budget and is considering terminating foreign-language assistant contracts. A spokeswoman said the deficit in language funding was largely a result of last year's research assessment exercise.
The University of Oxford is also facing a £1 million shortfall in its language budget.
Hefce has announced a review of languages provision.