British universities have embraced "the rhetoric of internationalisation" without understanding the crucial need for languages and inter-cultural awareness, a professor has claimed.
Colin Grant, pro vice-chancellor for international relations at the University of Surrey, issued the warning as he outlined Surrey's new Global Graduate Award, which is designed to help equip students for a career in the global marketplace.
As well as their core subject areas, participants will get an opportunity to study one of nine languages for two hours a week over two semesters.
They can enter at a number of different levels, ranked according to the Council of Europe's official descriptors, with an option for foreign students of "English for academic purposes".
Early indications suggest that among the 1,000 or so students who have already signed up, Chinese may prove more popular than French or German. As Surrey builds its existing partnership with Seoul National University, it hopes to add Korean to the list.
Although such courses are optional and do not count towards degrees, credits will be included on students' academic transcripts and are likely to attract favourable notice from employers, Professor Grant said. They also offer an excellent grounding for those who want to pursue study or work placements abroad.
A parallel Language and Culture Exchange Scheme at Surrey, for which there are currently 200 takers, links students with a partner who speaks a language they want to learn so they can arrange to meet regularly at the university library, students' union or a coffee shop.
The initiative comes at a time of declining interest in languages in the UK, with several universities planning to close departments, including the University of Leicester and Queen's University Belfast, and others, such as Swansea University, cutting staff numbers.
Against this backdrop, Professor Grant said Surrey's new initiative should be seen as "an act of rare enlightenment".