Students drawn to 'a bit on the side' in language learning

February 11, 2005

Failure to act on course cuts will open up subject 'wastelands' across the UK

More students are taking language courses than ever before, but not at degree level, the latest figures from the Association of University Language Centres reveal, writes Anthea Lipsett.

The survey shows that in the 40 institutions polled the number of students taking languages has risen by more than 1,000 to 53,008 for 2004-05 compared with 51,997 in 2003-04.

But the number of those taking accredited language courses that count towards their degree has fallen from ,572 to 22,123.

Nick Byrne, director of the London School of Economics language centre, who compiled the data, said: "There's an interesting shift in numbers doing languages as a 'bit on the side', which has grown by 4,000. There seems to be a trend towards students taking a language as a non-accredited option.

"The question is whether this is a cause for concern. I feel it is, and more research should be done. Is it a case of universities saying they are going to reduce the options available at degree level?"

While the higher number of language students overall is a positive sign, it increases pressures on language departments and centres. Universities receive specific funding only for students taking languages at degree level. There is nothing for those taking the subject as an optional extra.

Pam McIntyre, head of the School of Languages, Literatures and Arts, and Language Centre Manager at Queen's University, Belfast, said: "It is a positive sign that more students see languages as a way of improving their career prospects and research skills."

But she warned that because the AULC figures were not necessarily picked up by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there was a real danger of UK universities responding to the figures by cutting back on language provision.

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