Nick Mair, chair of the Independent Schools’ Modern Languages Association and director of languages at Dulwich College, said that some Oxford colleges had told him they “took every person who applied” for some language degrees.
According to this week’s TES, Mr Mair told a conference in London last week that many Russell Group universities received so few applications for language courses that they offered a “special discount” by lowering the grades required.
The number of students taking French and German A levels has dropped by a third over the past decade.
Analysis of admissions figures by TES reveals that this has affected students’ chances of being accepted by the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
In 2014, modern and medieval languages courses at the University of Cambridge received just two applicants for each place; in economics, however, the university received seven applications for every place.
A spokesman for the university said that although the numbers were low, the applications for its language degrees were from “very high achievers” who had achieved at least three A grades at A level.
The University of Oxford’s modern languages and linguistics degree has the highest acceptance rate of any subject it offers, with 44 per cent of applicants receiving a place in 2014. Modern languages is in third place, with a 33 per cent acceptance rate.
By contrast, economics and management received 1,149 applications for just 86 places in 2014 - a 7 per cent acceptance rate.
However, a spokeswoman insisted that students applying to study languages at the university would still have to do “exceptionally well” to be accepted on to a course.