Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 15:58 UK

Language degree review announced

Edinburgh students
Edinburgh students say the cuts will affect teaching

England's higher education funding council has confirmed it will examine modern foreign language provision amid concern about university budget cuts.

Several have had reduced funding for languages following an assessment of research by the funding council.

The council (Hefce), said it was concerned about the health and sustainability of modern languages.

The review will look at whether languages need to become more closely linked to research in other subjects.

Professor Michael Worton, vice-provost of University College London, will lead the review.

He said in some institutions languages were becoming an intrinsic part of other disciplines such as history, political science, or medicine and pharmaceutical research.

For example, he had heard of linguists being a close part of research into HIV, carrying out and translating interviews, he said.


Prof Worton said: "I will be looking at the health of the discipline, the decline in student numbers for some languages, and to set out a road map to go forward.

"It is understandable people are very anxious about cuts.

"I want to look at how the sector can engage with this and how higher education institutions can respond.

Recent policy and the impact of investment
Demand for and destination of graduates
Research performance of language departments
Whether provision meets future economic needs
Impact of emerging economies on language provision
Source: Hefce

"If languages become part of the interdisciplinary fabric of research, the ups and downs in language funding will be less of a threat."

He also said he wanted to look at why numbers of students of some languages, such as German, were declining.

"This is not a question purely for universities. We will be asking why, not just saying 'this is terrible'."

Higher education language study has traditionally been divided into the study of the language itself, literature written in the language, and culture.

The review will make recommendations on "the long-term sustainability and vitality of modern foreign languages" and report to government and the Hefce board.

Major review

Oxford University has said that its modern languages budget had been cut by £1m for the year 2009-10.

Students at Imperial College London are also protesting about cuts to languages and humanities.

Hefce's responsibility is for English higher education but the issue is not confined to England. Students at Edinburgh University will protest over cuts which they say threaten two languages.

The major review - revealed by the BBC News website last week - will look at issues such as economic need, demand, the destination of graduates, and investment.

It will report to Hefce's strategically important and vulnerable subject advisory group, as well as to the Westminster government, this September.

The government has made it a priority to ring-fence money for science and engineering subjects in higher education.

Funding allocations made after last year's Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) reflect this.

The RAE decided universities' share of £1.5bn in research funding.

A spokesman for Hefce said more money had been allocated to both humanities and science subjects after the assessment exercise, but that science and engineering had benefited more.

He said money was provided to universities in a "block grant" and institutions were responsible for their own strategic decisions.

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