British academy


8 Feb 2011

With over 71% of employers not satisfied with the foreign language skills of young people*, and 75% of the world population currently not speaking English at all**, the British Academy has today (9 Feb) called on UK universities urgently to address the growing mismatch between supply and demand in language skills.

Language Matters More and More (PDF file - 404 KB), a Position Paper by the British Academy Policy Centre, highlights the increasing severity of the languages deficit. The situation has worsened since the Academy’s previous warning in Language Matters (2009), and the paper therefore recommends ways that Vice-Chancellors can address the issue.

In 2010, over half (57%) of UK pupils took no language at GCSE level, while the number of A level language candidates fell by a quarter.

Furthermore, the socio-economic profile of school pupils and undergraduates studying languages has shrunk. Only four out of ten state school pupils (41%) now take a language at GCSE, compared to eight out of ten independent school pupils (81%).  Unsurprisingly, this means 40% of applicants for language degrees come from the highest socio-economic group***.   

In Language Matters More and More, the Academy recommends that UK Vice-Chancellors:

• ADOPT a wider definition of ‘internationalisation’, rather than focus simply on recruitment of overseas students

• ENSURE that universities place this broader understanding of internationalisation and language learning at the heart of their missions

• RESPOND to the growing internationalisation of the graduate jobs market

• PROVIDE language training to meet the needs of their researchers

• ENCOURAGE and enable their students to take time out of their studies to work or study abroad

• MAKE PROVISION for their students to study a language while studying for a non-language degree

• WORK COLLABORATIVELY to sustain languages at a time of considerable fiscal restraints.

Language Matters More and More will be formally launched at a special afternoon event at the British Academy in central London on Wednesday 9 February. The Minister for Universities and Skills, David Willetts MP, will be one of the speakers.

Professor Nigel Vincent, Vice-President for Research and Higher Education Policy at the British Academy, said:

“This is a challenging time for UK students, and we should be making their transition from university to the globalised world easier, not harder.  The British Academy has voiced its concern over the growing language deficit for some years, and the gloomy statistics speak for themselves.  We need decisive action if we are to remedy this worsening situation.

“The roots of the problem lie within schools, but Vice-Chancellors have the power to drive change and help their students recognise the importance of learning languages, and about the countries where they are spoken and the cultures they sustain.  We urge them to act and protect this country’s long term economic, social and cultural standing.”


Download a copy of Language Matters More and More here. (PDF file - 404 KB)

For further information or a media pass to the launch event, please contact:

Kate Turnbull, Press and PR Manager:  0207 969 5263 /

* CBI Education and Skills Survey Ready to grow:  business priorities for education and skills (May 2010)
**CILT(the National Centre for Languages):

*** CILT (the National Centre for Languages) Language Trend Survey (Jan 2010)

• The British Academy’s work on policy is supported by its Policy Centre, which draws on funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The Policy Centre oversees a programme of activity engaging the expertise within the humanities and social sciences to shed light on policy issues.

• The British Academy, established by Royal Charter in 1902, champions and supports the humanities and social sciences. It aims to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement across the UK and internationally.   For more information, please visit