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.

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’.

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