British academy

Research says dire foreign language skills are contributing to UK market failure

14 Feb 2013

The UK's continuing market failure in language learning is highlighted today in a comprehensive British Academy review, Languages: the State of the Nation. Drawing on new research – including a survey of UK employers and labour market intelligence to identify the language skills demanded by employers – it concludes that while there is a plentiful supply of multilingual skills within UK society, more needs to be done to tap this supply, and to ensure our education system is equipped to support the UK's aspirations for growth and global influence.

Business and public sector organisations are already using a much wider range of languages in their operations than is being taught. Recent National Employer Skills Surveys indicate that 17% (2009) and 27% (2011) of vacancies in administrative and clerical roles went unfilled due to shortages in foreign language skills.

The report, prepared by Teresa Tinsley, provides strong evidence that the UK is suffering from a growing deficit in foreign language skills at a time when global demand is expanding. Languages: the State of the Nation makes the case for bridging the gap between the education and employment sectors – arguing that a weak supply of language skills in the job market is pushing down demand and creating a vicious circle of monolingualism.

Languages: the State of the Nation argues that market failure results from the way in which employers respond to the weak supply of these skills. They underestimate their current and future needs, they limit themselves to dealing only with those who speak English, they train existing staff with language skills, and they hire native speakers. None of these strategies create market incentives for learners, and hence there is little pressure on government to prioritise these skills.

Professor Nigel Vincent FBA, Vice-President for Research and Higher Education Policy at the British Academy said: "Neither the blame nor the solution to breaking free of this vicious circle lies with any one sector. Today's State of the Nation report is a call for action; it asks the government, business and education sectors all to work more closely together to ensure that the right messages are getting through to our students, so that the UK is better equipped to expand its global connections and respond to new economic realities."

Editor's notes: For further information, images and interviews please contact Kate Rosser Frost, Press & Communications Manager on k.rosserfrost@britac.ac.uk or 020 7969 5263 / 07880 382 850

Please see 2011 Census data for further information on the supply of existing multilingual skills in the UK (released 30 Jan 2013): http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-and-quick-statistics-for-wards-and-output-areas-in-england-and-wales/index.html

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