University language departments fear they cannot survive survive the impact of green paper proposals to make languages optional from age 14.
Thousands of teenagers are expected to drop language classes, according to a survey from the Association of Language Learning, which found that some schools are to make foreign languages optional from September.
The moves, recommended in the government's 14-19 green paper, will be the final straw for university courses already struggling with declining numbers.
"Some schools with an excellent record in language teaching are finding year groups for next year reduced from 300 to eight," said Hilary Footitt of the University Council of Modern Languages.
She said a generation of language students would be lost to higher education if the moves continue, despite efforts to compensate by increasing language provision in primary schools.
"The calendar proposed by the green paper would, in effect, mean a delay of some eight years between languages being dropped as compulsory at 14, and the first primary-taught young people getting to secondary school. That 'lost generation' would mean the death-knell for several language departments."
A UCML survey found that 73 per cent of universities have already cut one or more languages courses, 93 per cent had major staffing changes since 1999, and less than 30 per cent held any discussion of national needs before taking these decisions.
David Head, chair of the standing conference of heads of modern languages in universities, said: "No one seems to have made the link between GCSE study and post-GCSE study. We need a thorough review of the language curriculum right through to 18."
The Nuffield Foundation has condemned the government's proposals as "catastrophic".