The University of Wolverhampton is to close its undergraduate degrees in French, Spanish and English as a foreign language from the start of the next academic year.
However, Kevin Magill, associate dean of the School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications, insisted that the university was not abandoning languages altogether.
Wolverhampton recently undertook a review of its languages provision “in order to respond more effectively to opportunities and changes in demand and recruitment”, he said.
“In line with the long-term national decline in applications to undergraduate degrees in modern languages, the review recommended ending recruitment for the time being to our undergraduate programmes in French, Spanish and English as a foreign language, and expanding our languages provision in areas of higher demand.”
The dean said the university planned to expand an “existing range of short courses for UK and international clients and partners, bespoke courses and consultancy for regional businesses working internationally”, as well as preparatory English courses for international students coming to study in Wolverhampton.
“We are continuing to offer undergraduate degrees in languages, including [a degree in] teaching of English to speakers of other languages and English for international business,” he said.
He added that modules in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish would continue to be offered to students alongside their main courses.
Lucille Cairns, president of the Association of University Professors and Heads of French, has written to Wolverhampton’s vice-chancellor, Caroline Gipps, expressing “deep concern” at the decision, which she said was “entirely retrograde”.
“I would urge you to consider the strategic and vulnerable nature of languages provision in the UK,” she writes.
“We understand that the key driver behind your decision to withdraw undergraduate degrees in French and Spanish is current under-recruitment.
“All members of senior management know that numbers on university courses can fluctuate from year to year. But it is vital to eschew short-termism and, where necessary, to commit resources to reinvigorating advertising and recruitment methods, given the urgent and widely recognised need for linguists.”
The Higher Education Funding Council for England’s review of modern foreign languages provision, published last October, found that the “lack of suitably qualified graduates seriously affects the areas of government and public policy”.
And a report by the British Academy last June, Language Matters, said that the future of the UK’s research base could be threatened by the decline in modern language learning.
The University and College Union at Wolverhampton has complained that it was not consulted before the decision to close the French and Spanish degrees was finalised.
Loraine Westcott, chair of the branch negotiating committee, said: “It appears that at the time the union was promised consultation, an irretrievable decision had been made.”
The union has asked the university executive to explain why the courses are being closed at a time when applications for them are rising, she added.
“Changes to the provision of language courses for students taking other subjects are also likely and could mean that students of tourism or education, for example, will not be able to incorporate languages into their degrees,” she said.