UCL step ahead of Dearing language blueprint

December 15, 2006

University College London has decided that all its undergraduates must have a foreign language GCSE.

The decision, agreed by UCL's academic committee this week, will be introduced gradually, with the first batch of courses introducing the requirement in 2012.

Michael Worton, UCL's provost, said that the move, announced before Sir Ron Dearing was due this week to publish his report into the teaching of languages, would add to the pressure on schools to encourage their students to study languages.

He said the idea could be taken up by other universities in the elite Russell Group, which had "expressed an interest".

Professor Worton said: "We are trying to put pressure on schools to raise the aspirations of young people and parents. If you come to a university such as UCL, you are looking at global employability."

He said the university was keen to ensure the move did not mean a prevalence at UCL of the middle classes, who were more likely to study languages in school.

The college will consider how to help those who could not get the opportunity to study a language and could consider other ways of measuring linguistic or intercultural competence, he said.

Professor Worton added that he would ask the board to look at how UCL could encourage students to continue language studies once they arrived at university, and would like to see all students spend time studying abroad in future. He said he discussed the plan with Lord Dearing, whose interim report on foreign language policy in education was due to be published this week, after The Times Higher went to press.

This week, Lord Dearing called on universities to help enthuse school pupils about foreign languages. He wrote to all higher education institutions in England urging them to work with the country's 300 specialist language colleges, and with further education and sixth-form colleges.

The Nuffield Languages Inquiry chaired by newscaster Sir Trevor McDonald, which reported in summer 2000, recommended that languages be compulsory for university entry.

The British Academy said two weeks ago that all pupils should have to take a GCSE in a foreign language or schools should give strong incentives to 14 to 16-year-olds to study the subjects.

Robin Jackson, the Academy's chief executive, said a drop in language learning in schools was hitting degree-level study and research into the subjects.

The final Dearing report is due in February.

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