Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 17:34 UK

Low numbers shut French course

Staff protest at the university
There are also plans to close the German department at Queen's Belfast

While universities have been warning of a surge in applications for courses this autumn - some language courses are struggling to attract applicants.

The University of the West of England is to stop courses in French, Spanish and Chinese this year because they received only 39 applicants.

The university has seen a 14% rise in applications for other subjects.

But the university's vice-chancellor says "there are too few students who wish to study languages".

As such there will be no new intake for these modern languages this autumn.

Declining numbers

The university says that continuing the courses would have meant an annual subsidy of £1m per year.

"We are still committed to the values and importance of languages," says vice-chancellor, Steve West.

"It is just that there are too few students who wish to study languages in their current form nationally and regionally."

This is the latest sign of the problems facing languages departments.

Last week, Queen's University Belfast announced plans to close its German department.

And last month, England's higher education funding council announced it would examine modern foreign language provision amid concern about university budget cuts.

Recruitment problems facing university language departments are being fuelled by the falling numbers of pupils studying languages in schools.

In 2001 321,000 pupils took GCSE French, according to a report from CILT, the National Centre for Languages, but this number fell to 176,000 in 2008.

This decline coincided with the end of modern languages as a compulsory subject up to the age of 16.

However, languages have continued to be widely taught in independent schools, with the CILT survey finding it was compulsory in 82% of independent secondary schools.

"We need to increase the number of UK graduates competent to work internationally, to enable them to compete with multilingual counterparts from across the world," said CILT's chief executive, Kathryn Board.

"Languages are important for our economic prosperity, for our security and for our cultural and intellectual clout in a globalised world.

"British graduates without language skills are disadvantaged in the international jobs market, and lack of language skills limits research and acts as a brake on trade."

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