Information and statistics on languages in HE can be found here. This page also includes information on policy developments in respect of study abroad / outward mobility.
Surveys on Language Provision in UK Modern Language Departments
Since 2018, UCML has carried out an annual survey of the modern languages sector, seeking to identify trends in languages offered on degree programmes and credit-bearing Institution-Wide Language Programmes (IWLP), and how these two pathways collaborate in higher education institutions. In 2018 and 2019, this was done in association with the AHRC-funded Language Acts and Worldmaking project. Since then, UCML has collaborated with the Association of University Language Communities in the UK & Ireland (AULC) on the project. The 2019 survey included questions around Brexit planning, while the 2020/21 survey asked about the impact of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to 2018, UCML carried out two other surveys on degree programme provision in the modern languages sector:
- A 2016 survey focused on less-widely taught languages
- A 2014 survey focused on the four most commonly taught languages: French, Spanish, German and Italian
Report on Granular Trends in Modern Languages in UCAS Admissions Data, 2012-18
Research commissioned by the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) into UCAS admissions data for modern languages degrees between 2012 and 2018 has unearthed a more vibrant languages landscape in UK higher education than recent reports of ‘crisis’ suggest. Read the full report here.
The analysis of the data, jointly purchased by UCML and the British Academy, was carried out by Webster Research and Consulting Ltd. It confirms that there is a decline in modern languages study in Higher Education (2012-18), but that this decline is not as steep as has been previously reported. It shows, too, that the decline is primarily in the study of a single language (for instance BA in French), and that the decline is more marked for European languages than non-European ones. In fact, study of non-European languages has increased, such that by 2018 ‘as many students were being accepted to read Korean as Russian, and more were studying Japanese or Chinese than Italian’.
The study has also revealed the versatility of studying modern languages degrees. Although student interest in languages as stand-alone degrees has declined, the study of languages in combination with other subjects (other humanities subjects or social sciences) has increased. In particular, more students are now studying languages alongside Politics, Linguistics and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL), and the proportion of students studying languages with History, Business and Law has remained constant.
This new study of UCAS data reveals the dynamic reality of current and changing language study, often hidden beneath generic ‘combined’ UCAS codes. As Professor Claire Gorrara, Chair of UCML, puts it, ‘language study in HE is changing, diversifying – let’s move away from the story of crisis towards one of transformation’.
(Re)Creating Modern Languages: Conversations about the Curriculum in UK Higher Education
In 2020, the AHRC-OWRI Creative Multilingualism project published a toolkit designed to support comprehensive curriculum change in Higher Education, including ways in which undergraduate language programmes can productively work with Institution-Wide Language Programmes (IWLP). The toolkit includes contributions from UCML Chair Claire Gorrara, as well as UCML Executive and Steering Group members Marcela Cazzoli (Hon. Secretary) and Liz Wren-Owens (Wales Representative).
Institution-wide language teaching and learning in UK HEIs
UCML, in collaboration with the Association of University Language Communities in the UK & Ireland (AULC) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) is committed to mapping the language teaching and learning activity not captured by UCAS and HESA statistics.
- April 2019. The yearly language survey on Institution-Wide Language Programmes has been published and can be accessed here.
- April 2018. The yearly language survey on Institution-Wide Language Programmes has been published and can be accessed here.
- April 2017. This report has found that demand for IWLP language courses continue to be on the rise, which is very good news. For the first time, the survey also collected data on the conditions of employment of language tutors nationally. The full report can be accessed here.
- April 2016: the yearly language survey on Institution-Wide Language Programmes can be accessed here.
Surveys for years between 2012 and 2016 are available to download from the AULC website.
Chinese Studies in the UK
The British Association for Chinese Studies (BACS) published a report in 2019 that summarises the presence of Chinese teaching in UK HEIs, covering student numbers and institutional spread, as well as addressing numbers of students of Chinese nationality studying in the UK. These figures relate to both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. BACS have additionally produced a report on employability that can be accessed here.
British Academy on HE languages
In 2019, the British Academy issued a Languages in the UK call to action alongside the other three National Academies: the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society. The document pressed the economic and cultural potential of the UK becoming a ‘linguistic powerhouse’, and called for a national languages strategy.
Born Global: Rethinking Language Policy for 21st Century Britain is a policy research project into the extent and nature of language needs in the labour market of massive importance to HE languages.
Languages: The State of the Nation report by the British Academy (14 February 2013) raises further concerns from the continued drop in applicants to study languages in HE in a comprehensive survey of issues of supply and demand for languages and their impact.
All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages
The APPG on Modern Languages exists to:
- explore the educational, skills-related, employment, competitive and cultural benefits of learning and using languages throughout the UK
- provide a parliamentary forum for information exchange and consultation
- encourage and support policies and action improving the take-up of languages in schools, further and higher education, in the workplace and in the community.
The APPG produced a National Recovery Programme for Languages in 2019 which, like the British Academy’s Languages in the UK report (see above), called for a national languages strategy.
The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)
In January 2020, HEPI produced a report, A Languages Crisis?, that highlights the significant drop in Languages study in the UK and draws on a number of case studies to show how this puts the UK at a major disadvantage when compared with other countries. The report makes a number of policy recommendations including: making Language courses more interesting to study; reintroducing compulsory Languages at GCSE (where this does not already exist); and ensuring migration rules encourage the supply of those who can teach Languages.
Useful sources of statistics re languages in HE
N.B. A level statistics are on the primary/secondary languages section.
- July 2018: UCAS has released the latest applications data at the closing of the 30 June deadline. The trend in our sector mirrors the national trends for all UG applications with decreases on last year’s figures. However, a growth in applications is coming from EU (excluding UK) and non-EU students both nationally and for our three groups of interest (Q, R, T). To access the full data and tables, click here.
- April 2018: UCAS publishes an analysis of all full-time UCAS Undergraduate applications made by the 24 March deadline – the application deadline for some higher education courses in art and design. Nationally, a ‘record proportion of English 18 year olds apply to higher education’, which is very good news for the sector at large. Nationally, our Q, R, and T group register a further drop on last year’s figures. However, when looking at gender and domicile breakdown, some positive news comes from both groups Q and T. Please read our digest here. To see the whole set of data, click here.
- February 2018: UCAS publishes data on Higher Education application rates and trends at the January deadline. Nationally, there has been a drop in applications across all subjects including our Q, R, and T groups. For the fuller picture, see our digest.
- June 2017: UCML sent a letter to both the UCAS Executive Director and the UCAS Chair asking for further granularity in the presentation of data regarding Joint Honours degrees which include a Modern Foreign Language in the title.
- April 2017: UCAS have now published their 2017 Applications statistics for the March deadline covering applicant age, sex, country, and subject. At this stage data for us remain quite general and we will have to wait for the inline data in July/August to gain a fuller picture of our single subjects. Unfortunately, overall this set of data points to another loss for our Q, R, and T subject groups compared to last year. In particular, Q has gone down by -5%, R by -7% and T by -6%. The full figures can be accessed here: here. However, when looking at the figures on ‘Subjects by sex’, interestingly women for all domiciles have had a 1% rise for group T (Non-European Langs, Lit & related). Conversely, the same data for men indicates a loss of -18% in group T which is seen to experience the highest loss of all three men groups. If we look at the stats for EU applicants (excluding the UK), again figures for the T group for women applicants are the only ones on the rise on last year’s data by 6% whereas applications for men in the T group have had a sharp decline (-38%) bringing this particular group in line with the same figures as 2013 and 2014. When looking at applications from non-EU applicants, interestingly men in the Q group feature a rise of 16% on 2016 whereas women record a small decline (-3%) for the same subject group. The full data profile can be accessed here.
- February 2017: UCAS has published the first set of data regarding UK undergraduate applications for the 2017 cycle. The data show figures for the main subject groups; details of the single subjects will be available later in the year. Unfortunately, figures for our Q, R, and T groups have decreased by a few points on last year’s data. Group Q is down by -6%, group R by -8% and group T by -5% respectively. The full set of figures can be accessed through the UCAS website. When looking at the applicants profiles, data continue to suggest that the majority of students taking up one of our subjects are female. Interestingly, two thirds of all applicants for the Q, R, and T groups are female (59,240) and one third are male (19,340).
- 19 December 2016: UCAS published data for the end-of-year acceptances cycle for 2016. Although overall the trend for language acceptances continues to decrease (-8% overall on last year), there are some positive signals coming from some of the languagues. The full statistics can be accessed here. We have read the data and published a digest for both Single Honours and Combinations of Languages on the right-hand side of the menu. As usual, data for Single Honours have to be taken with a pinch of salt since they relate, in most cases, to small numbers of students. In summary, French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese have experienced a fall on last year’s figures, whereas Spanish, the Middle Eastern languages and Scandinavian Studies are reporting a growth (the latter by some 50%). However, when looking at the overall data over a ten-year period, more positive figures can be extracted for Spanish, Chinese and Japanese who continue to enjoy stable growth nationally. However, unfortunately Combinations of European languages have lost -27% in acceptances in the last ten years.
- 14 July 2016: UCAS HE applications data cycle for June deadline. Today UCAS has published the latest data on HE applications for all subject groups. Our groups of interest, unfortunately, continue to show a decrease in applications on last year’s figures. In particular, group Q (Linguistics, Classics and related) has had a drop of -3%, whereas both the R (European Langs, Lit and related) and T (Non-European Langs, Lit and related) groups registered a -6% decrease. The various combinations in group Y (Arts combined with another subject) have seen drops between -3% and -10%. However, additional figures for applications from the rest of Europe (excluding the UK) are showing an interesting trend with considerable increases for both the Q and T groups (+7% and +15% respectively). Group Y also enjoys an increase in applications ranging from +1% to +12%. Group R instead sees a -7% decrease in demand for HE applications. Other figures for non-EU applications show a large increase for group T (+28%) and decreases in applications for groups Q, R, and Y (-4%, -5%, -1/-8% respectively). The full range of data can be seen here.
- January 2016: The Higher Education Academy has just published a summary report for the Teaching and Learning Issues in the Disciplines project in which it identifies key themes and issues arising from higher education academics across the range of subjects including languages. The aim of the project was to best understand the sector’s needs from a discipline perspective, and to determine how best to work with professional and learned bodies to meet those needs. Languages were represented in three focus groups held in Manchester, Newcastle and London in the summer of 2015.
- January 2016: UCAS has now published their end-of-year cycle acceptance data for all subjects for 2015. The full document can be accessed here. Across the sector there was a 3.8% rise on 2014. We have extracted the statistics for all degrees involving languages and linguistics and attach the data file on the right-hand side of the menu, but the headline based on these is that our disciplines have suffered a 7% drop on 2014. Some caution needs to be expressed about the data, as some of the Y category combinations may not actually involve a language but, for example, another arts/humanities subject combined with a science. The individual languages listed in the R group also only refer to single honours and as we know, the majority of languages students are taking a combination of more than one language or a language combined with another subject. Thus we should not focus too much on the single honours figures, though there are some alarming drops in some of the combination figures too. Meanwhile there are increases, for example, in
- R9 Others in European languages, lit & related : up 25%
- T2 Japanese studies : up 52% (but from a low base)
- T9 Others in non-European languages, lit & related : up 27% (very small numbers)
- Y Combs of social studies/bus/law with languages : up 8%
We have also provided separate charts for both Single Honours subjects and Combinations of subjects for an easier visual access. The Higher Education Statistical Agency is due to publish their data next week on 14 January 2016.
- HEFCE has published an update on the document ‘Higher Education in England: Key facts‘ for 2015. The most relevant news for Languages (pp. 21-22 of the document) is that the sharp decline in students signing up for a full-time degree in Modern Languages is stable. Encouragingly, the small 2012-13 decline has been met with an increase of 4.8% on the overall figure for 2013-14. Unfortunately, however, the number of part-time students registering to study Modern Languages in HE continues to decline. The review also highlights that the reliance on overseas staff and students in minority modern foreign languages may pose additional and significant risks to an already vulnerable set of disciplines, such as African and Asian languages.
- UCAS applications statistics for the March 2015 deadline have been published and show a small increase in all our subject areas.
- HESA latest statistics on Subjects of Degree Studies over a 7-year trend period (2007-2014) were published in February 2015. Overall, unfortunately Languages was the largest subject area to see a fall in student numbers. There was also a drop in the number of entrants for degrees in Foreign Languages (-6%), with some languages hit worse than others. For a digest of language-specific data, see here.
Support for teaching languages and related studies in HE
New QAA Benchmark Statement on Languages, Cultures and Societies (2019) – this is a revised benchmark statement of relevance to degrees in languages across multiple JACS codes.
The Higher Education Academy (HEA) runs events of interest to the HE community and provides funding for the development of teaching and learning.
LLAS (formerly the HEA Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies) at the University of Southampton had a long track record in supporting teaching and learning across our disciplines. Although LLAS has now ended its activities, its website is rich in resources gathered over the years.
The Association of University Language Centres (AULC)’s Special Interest Group meetings and Annual General Meeting and Conference are based around the sharing of information and good practice, particularly related to technology supported pedagogy.
The European Confederation of University Language Centres (CercleS) organises biennial conferences and publishes a refereed journal: Language Learning in Higher Education.
The Delphi site at the University of Birmingham provides web based modules for training HE language teachers – originally designed for graduate teaching assistants and lectors – valuable for all practitioners.
The www.unicollaboration.org platform is open to practitioners from universities around the world. The platform allows university educators and students mobility coordinators to find partner-classes and resources for their online intercultural exchange projects and initiatives. There are also training materials for those who want to learn more about telecollaboration. The platform has been developed with the financing of the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning project INTENT (http://www.scoop.it/t/intent-project-news). You can view a short guided tour of the platform here: http://youtu.be/rzKK5A-9fUM
The HEA have published a survey into the use of telecollaboration and international online collaboration tools available for download here.
The year abroad / outward mobility
- In July 2021, UCML conducted a survey of its members to establish the prevalence of Modern Languages programmes without a year abroad in light of concerns raised by members following the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK’s withdrawal from Erasmus+. 3-year programme survey results
- In March 2021, UCML organised a webinar on the new Turing Scheme implemented by the UK Government following the UK’s withdrawal from Erasmus+. The webinar featured presentations from Professor Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University who worked closely with UUKi in the development of Turing, and representatives from the Department for Education and the British Council, responsible for delivering the scheme. You can read a summary of the event including responses in the Q&A sections here.
- In January 2021 UCML coordinated a letter from the HE sector to the Department for Education in response to the UK’s withdrawal from Erasmus+ and the announcement of the new Turing Scheme.
- In 2020 UCML launched a Special Interest Group to address the potential impact of Covid-19 on the Year Abroad and to mitigate this impact on undergraduate students. This has resulted in the development of a Virtual Resource Pack shared with UK departments to support online language learning, and a portfolio of MOOCs on intercultural skills offered to students whose mobility has been restricted by the pandemic.
- In February 2020 UCML, alongside other Language and Linguistics associations, signed a Statement of Support for the Erasmus+ programme.
- July 2017: UCML produced a report on the Year Abroad and related practices based on a survey of member HEIs, asking about the compulsory/optional nature of residence abroad in Modern Languages programmes, the languages offered, and assessment practices. The report is available here.
- November 2016: A study that makes the case for the validity of the Erasmus+ programme has been published. The study reinforces the belief that the Erasmus+ programme bring students a set of qualities that potentially make them more employable and that cannot be learnt by studying in one’s home country alone. The study claims that losing the Erasmus+ programme as a potential consequence of Brexit would be detrimental to the personal and academic development and employability of our home students.The study was conducted by surveying a number of students of German at Warwick and Cambridge universities about their year abroad experience by Silke Mentchen (Cambridge) and Andrea Klaus (Warwick). The study is available here.
- February 2016: The European Commission has released an interesting report on the Erasmus scheme and mobility: The Erasmus Impact Study: Regional Analysis analyses the regional trends in the effects of student mobility under the Erasmus programme on employability, skills,careers and social lives. This report follows on from the original 2014 Erasmus Impact Study report. Another interesting and informative report by the European Commission is the 2014 Erasmus: Facts, Figures and Trends which contains data and tables relating to mobility for both student and staff exchanges.
- The Go International website is an excellent source of information for all things relating to HE mobility. The Gone International: Mobile Students and their Outcomes report from 2015 provides a national outline of which students go abroad, where they go and considers what currently available data can tell us about the initial outcomes of international experience as part of a UK undergraduate programme.
- November 2015: UCML has carried out a survey regarding the fees charged by different HEIs for the Year Abroad part of a conventional degree course in Modern languages. Results reveal that most institutions charge their students 15% of a full year’s fees, in line with HEFCE’s model of fee cap regulation. To read more about the survey, click here.
- Student Perspectives on going international. The UK Higher Education International Unit’s Go International programme and the British Council published a report in September 2015 on student perspectives of the benefits of and barriers to spending time abroad as part of a UK undergraduate degree. The research aims to provide evidence for UK higher education institutions and policy makers who are developing and implementing initiatives to increase the number of UK-domiciled students accessing international opportunities.
- International Unit : UK strategy on outward mobility. Following the work of the UUK working group on outward mobility, chaired by Prof Colin Riordan (then VC of Essex, now VC of Cardiff), the International Unit launched a national outward mobility strategy in December 2013. The strategy has support of all the nation governments and funding from HEFCE and BIS. Members may find this useful to refer to when making the case for internationalisation strategies (including more outward mobility) in their own universities.
- Global Graduates : Students providing advice and support to each other, through social networking and exchanging intelligence on the experience and its benefits.
- The rationale for sponsoring students to undertake international study: an assessment of national student mobility scholarship programmes. Report by British Council/DAAD 2014. Downloadable here.
- See also the British Academy Report Valuing the Year Abroad.
Employer surveys of graduate skills
The CBI/Pearson annual surveys of members’ opinions about graduate (and school leaver) skills regularly highlight demand for (and dissatisfaction with) language and intercultural skills. Read the 2013 survey Changing the Pace.
The British Chambers of Commerce publish regular reports and surveys, including the June 2013 Survey Fact sheet: Exporting is Good for Britain but Knowledge Gaps and Language Skills hold back Exporters in which there is a call for languages to become compulsory as a core subject in the National Curriculum up to AS level.
For more employability related resources see our Shaping the Future project pages.