That is the view of a group of MPs and peers, who have urged all political parties to make general election manifesto commitments to boost language learning.
Officially launched today, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages’ Manifesto for Languages is supported by over 50 leading businesses, organisations and universities and has already been presented to the main party leaders.
“The UK economy is already losing around £50 billion a year in lost contracts because of lack of language skills in the workforce,” said the group’s chair, Baroness Coussins.
“The next government will need to take clear, urgent and coherent action to upgrade the UK’s foreign language skills. Otherwise our young people will continue to fall behind their European and global peers in education and employability; our export growth will be stunted; our international reputation will suffer; and our security, defence and diplomacy needs will be compromised.”
Alongside a major decline at A level and failures earlier in the educational pipeline, the Manifesto notes that “44 universities have scrapped language degrees since 2000”.
It therefore calls for all parties to sign up to a framework which includes “a long-term commitment to transforming the reputation of UK citizens as poor linguists”, “high-quality language learning for all children throughout the UK from age 7” and “a commitment to maintaining and developing UK expertise in modern languages and cultures in university language departments”.
Central to the last of these is “maintain[ing] the status of languages as ‘strategically important and vulnerable’ subjects and continued support for the Year Abroad”.
In a parallel development, the University Council of Modern Languages has issued a letter calling on all universities to contribute to the development of the “global graduates” the country urgently needs by “mak[ing] a GCSE A*-C grade or equivalent in a modern foreign language a pre-requisite for admission to undergraduate programmes in any discipline”.
It also argues that “more young people who speak a language other than English in the home should be encouraged to validate this skill academically by taking a GCSE or equivalent qualification”.
Such qualifications in “home languages” should “equally be recognised by university admissions departments as contributing positively to the educational profile of their applicants”.