Memorandum from the University Council
of Modern Languages (UCML) (HE 129)
1.1. The University Council of Modern Languages
(UCML) is the overarching organisation which represents language
departments in Higher Education, and a large number of the professional
and scholarly associations in languages, linguistics and area
1.2. UCML is pleased to have an opportunity
to submit evidence to the Higher Education Inquiry in this, the
European Year of Languages. UCML believes strongly that students
of all disciplines in the 21st century will need to situate their
learning experience and their notions of citizenship within an
increasingly international framework.
1.3. Languages are vital to the future of
our young people for three reasons. Firstly, as the Nuffield Languages
Inquiry demonstrated, with 30 per cent of our GDP drawn from international
trade, there is a growing demand from UK business for people with
languages. Secondly, languages help to develop general communication
skills and it is these which employers consistently rate as the
most important skills. Thirdly, an understanding of other nations,
and a positive attitude towards other cultures will need to be
vital components in the graduate portfolio of the future. For
all these reasons, it is important that the UK Higher Education
system contributes to preparing young people for global citizenship
in as full a way as possible.
1.4. UCML's evidence is that the quality
of the student experience in degrees in which languages are a
major part is being critically affected by current financial considerations.
UCML believes that there are systemic disincentives
discouraging young people at university from spending a credited
portion of their course in study or work-placements outside the
UK. These disincentives affect students on language degrees and
on those degrees ( with for example science, engineering or law)
in which a foreign language is a major component.
3. FUNDING AND
3.1 The UK needs graduates capable of operating
effectively in different linguistic and cultural contexts. Research
shows clearly that a study or work placement abroad is a sound
investment, helping graduates get their first and subsequent jobs.
There is now evidence however that an increasing number of students
are opting out of residence abroad. University language departments
report higher numbers of students seeking to transfer to other
courses before the Year Abroad, or arguing that their specific
family circumstances now make it impossible for them to meet the
study abroad requirements of the course for which they enrolled.
One university for example has noted that, whilst in the past
a small number of mature students have opted for a languages-related
degree pathway which did not include residence abroad, the proportion
of non-mature students transferring to this route has grown from
15 per cent in 1997-8 to 42 per cent in 1999-2000. The perception
of one year's additional expenditure, in addition to a fee-payment,
is clearly operating in these cases to discourage students from
undertaking a vital part of specialist language learning, and
one which is not only of major future employment value to the
individual student concerned, but is also of considerable potential
future benefit to the UK economy. Degrees in Modern Languages,
or joint degrees in a language and another subject (eg science/engineering/law),
enable young people in the future to compete effectively in the
European and global job-market.
3.2 At the very least therefore, it is vitally
important to remove structural financial disincentives for all
placements abroad: waiving fees for Socrates/Erasmus exchanges
has been a crucial first step, but has itself introduced further
3.3 As UCML pointed out in its previous
submission,the fee arrangements for students spending time abroad
are currently inconsistent and discriminate against certain types
of arrangements and certain countries. Table 1 below sets out
the variety of fee arrangements which now operate.
|Type of Residence Abroad
|Full-year Socrates/Erasmus exchange||No home fees.
|Teaching Assistantship||50% of home fees
|Work Placement||50% of home fees
|Countries outside the EU: any arrangements
||50% of home fees|
3.4 The damaging effects of these inconsistencies are
already noticeable in three areas. The number of teaching assistants
going to France and Germany had been relatively stable for twenty
years. Recent figures from the Central Bureau however suggest
that numbers of UK students going as teaching assistants to France,
Germany and Spain have all fallen over the past year: the largest
decline is in those going to France, a fall of 20 per cent on
the 1994 peak figure. Traditionally, the foreign assistantship
scheme has been a major source from which future foreign language
teachers for UK schools are recruited. The marked reduction in
students taking assistantships since the introduction of student
fees will inevitably impact on future foreign language teacher
supply to our schools, in a situation in which teacher shortages
in languages have been the object of DFEE action elsewhere.
3.5 The current fee arrangements represent particular
disincentives for those students seeking to have work placements
outside the UK. This is ironic in view of recent research (Professor
J. Coleman, Portsmouth University)which suggests that work placements
bring the greatest improvements in foreign language proficiency,
in confidence in using the foreign language, and in employability.
Given the recommendations of the Nuffield Languages Inquiry that
language skills should be built into the culture and practice
of British business, it is of major concern to UCML that current
fee arrangements are operating to discourage the type of placements
which would be of direct value to the future of UK business.
3.6 Finally, it is evident that students seeking to study
or work in countries outside the EU and those countries participating
in Socrates are severely disadvantaged by present fee arrangements.
Potentially these areas, for example Latin America, China, Japan
and Russia, are of major importance to the UK economy, as has
been recognised by recent HEFCE "Minority Subjects"
initiatives in relation to Eastern Europe/Russia and Asia. If
students are to be attracted to study the languages of these areas,
and continue on such courses, it is vital that financial disincentives
to residence abroad should be speedily lifted.
4.1 The Nuffield Languages Inquiry recommended extending
the fee waiver to include all arrangements for residence abroad.
UCML strongly endorses this recommendation, and calls on the Education
Sub-Committee to ensure that the disincentives to students on
teaching or work placements, or to those developing language skills
in countries outside the EU, should be lifted as a matter of extreme
4.2 UCML has already presented evidence to the Sub-Committee
( copy enclosed for information) on the potential ghettoization
of language study within a small elite in this country. UCML urges
the Sub-Committee to use the opportunity of the European Year
of Languages this year in order to address Higher Education's
contribution to some of the strategic issues of foreign language
learning policy in the UK.
University Council of Modern Languages (UCML)