University language departments ‘at risk’ as recruitment slumps

Number of students placed on results day drops 8 per cent year-on-year

August 19, 2016
Closed sign in French
Source: Alamy

More university language departments could face closure if student recruitment continues to decline, a sector leader has warned.

Ucas data show that the number of applicants placed on to European language and literature courses at UK higher education institutions on A-level results day was down 7.8 per cent year-on-year, with an intake of 3,080 being a record low for recent years.

Non-European language and literature courses experienced a similar decline, with just 940 students placed on these programmes as results were released.

The key problem facing these courses is a decline in the number of students sitting the relevant language A levels that are required for entry.

Entries to A levels in French dropped 6.4 per cent year-on-year, with German down 4.2 per cent and Spanish declining by 2.7 per cent.

René Koglbauer, president of the Association for Language Learning and senior lecturer in Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, said that he feared more universities would close their departments if undergraduate recruitment did not turn around.

Ulster University announced the closure of its School of Modern Languages last year, while both Northumbria University and the University of Salford have significantly cut back their programmes.

“If the numbers continue to decline, then it’s likely that the offer of languages at universities might decline, at least in terms of degrees,” Dr Koglbauer said. “The fewer A-level students we have got, the fewer you can recruit into your programmes, and the weaker ones might have to close.”

The decline in the number of students taking language A levels has been blamed on funding shortages in schools and colleges, which struggle to support courses that have traditionally had small cohorts.

But languages at university level also face an uncertain future due to the expiry of support from the Higher Education Funding Council for England for the Routes into Languages programme, which provided £10.5 million for outreach over the past decade.

Modern European languages are also heavily exposed to changes in immigration rules that may follow the UK’s vote to leave the European Union: 46.4 per cent of academics in this field are drawn from the Continent, significantly higher than any other discipline.

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Yes, but what do some of these departments expect? Some of them get catastrophic NSS results and they have professors and readers who publish nothing or close to nothing. Look at the webpages for instance of Spanish in Birmingham, Edinburgh or Bristol, with some professors whose publication records are much worse than a research fellow's or a lecturer's.

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