Latin is no longer <i> sine qua non </i>

June 21, 2002

More than 800 years of scholarly tradition will end when the last Oxbridge course to insist on Latin fluency begins admitting students who have not learned the language.

Cambridge University's faculty of classics has given those unable to study the language at school the chance to pursue it at degree level from 2003.

Undergraduates without Latin or Greek A levels will take an additional year-long course to develop the necessary skills. Oxford University made similar changes eight years ago.

The reluctance of many state schools to teach a subject not on the national curriculum has seen Latin become a minority subject and the preserve of the independent sector.

Simon Goodhill, reader in Greek culture and literature and coordinator of schools liaison at Cambridge's faculty of classics, said: "There's an opportunity being missed by some of the state education systems. We are responding to that."

Dr Goodhill expected that the course would remain dominated by students with Latin or Greek A levels and insisted that standards would not fall.

He added that most would find the skills they learned useful on graduation: the discipline has the highest employment rate of any arts subject at Cambridge.

For centuries, an understanding of Latin was compulsory to enter university and essential for all intellectual discourse - in the sciences as well as humanities.

Jeremy Catto, lecturer in history at Oriel College, Oxford, said Latin's decline began in the 18th century as academics embraced vernacular languages.

"It is sad in a way, but I think it probably will revive not so much for its own sake but as a useful modern learning tool," he said.

Cambridge's decision was welcomed by Geoffrey Williams, consultant secretary of the joint association for Latin teaching.

"If you're trying to widen access, I think the thing to do is not to celebrate the past but work for the future of thisI worthwhile subject," he said.

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