A report recently released by the British Academy outlines the pressures the Higher Education sector is set to face after the UK has left the EU

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In the West Midlands almost half of all academic teaching staff are EU Nationals, one of the highest rates in the UK, meaning that Birmingham universities will be amongst the worst affected by the Brexit deal.

According to the British academy ‘the ability to sustain the presence of European scholars at UK universities is essential for our future excellence in the humanities and social sciences’. However, the question of whether EU academics will choose to stay in the EU post-Brexit remains unclear.

The ability to sustain the presence of European scholars at UK universities is essential for our future excellence in the humanities and social sciences

It is predicted that students studying Economics and Modern Languages will be the worst affected by the Brexit changes with 36% of economists and 35% of modern language academics coming from countries in the EU.

The potential decline of language learning at university is of particular concern as it reflects a much larger national trend. With only a third of British people currently being able to speak a foreign language, Vicky Gough, a school advisor at the British council, argues that the requirement for language learners is higher than ever if Britain is to become a global player in a post-Brexit context.

However, statistics are instead showing an increased lack of interest with a 7% decrease in the number of students learning a language at GCSE level and a 1% decrease at A-level in the past year. The TES teaching magazine warns that the current governmental focus on the EBacc could aggravate the fall in language learners as languages are left on the sidelines as a result of the narrowing of the secondary school curriculum.

The importance of being able to speak more than one language is repeatedly overlooked in the UK, with many people taking the view that “everyone speaks English anyway”, however, in 2014 official figures revealed that English was no longer the first language for the majority of pupils in one in every nine schools. For such a multicultural nation, many academics are left confused by the apparent lack of interest in learning a new language.

Some have suggested that the problem lies in the GCSE and A-level curricula which are putting young people off learning a language; research conducted for the Guardian and British Academy by the polling organisation ICM shows that 24% of students studying a language at school did not believe that what they were being taught is useful in real life, and 32% of students who chose not to study a language did so because they found other subjects more interesting. At the moment, it seems that despite the desperate need for language learners from May 2019 onward, the situation for Modern Languages in Britain is set to worsen.


Article by Florence Jones