Scotland: We need a coherent strategy for the expansion of languages

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jun 11 14:23:34 UTC 2008

We need a coherent strategy for the expansion of languages

YOUR LETTERS June 11 2008

The recent Scottish Funding Council (SFC) report, Modern languages in
Scotland: supply and demand in post-school education, misses an
opportunity properly to inform the debate on languages. Some findings
are welcome, eg, lack of proper funding reflecting the true cost of
quality language provision, notably with regard to ICT-led delivery,
is a major issue. The admission that "current data on modern language
provision are inadequate and need improving" is also helpful, but SFC
fails to ask serious questions of itself in this regard.

The report has many other shortcomings. The proposal to "continue to
monitor demand and supply of languages provision in Scotland's
colleges and universities" needs to be much more robust. Much more
comprehensive, up-to-date, informed employer comment, both within and
outwith Scotland, is also required. It is unclear which universities
and language departments were consulted and how the analysis of
provision was conducted. More detailed evidence could have been taken
at a higher level from policy decision-makers within the universities
and colleges. The report focuses on traditionally structured language
degree courses and fails even to mention the concept of
University-Wide Language Programmes.

The reference to some "rationalisation" within the sector glosses over
the fact that the vocationally-oriented languages provision developed
in some post-1992 universities (deemed more relevant by many
non-specialist students and potential employers) has been seriously
undermined. The report also fails to mention the role which
vocationally-oriented languages research might play in contributing to
Scotland's economy.

It records the decline of German Higher qualifications from 1417
(2002/3) to only 880 (2006/7), but does not compare this with the
objective "to improve the understanding and knowledge of the German
language and Germany in Scotland among young people (aged 12-30)" as
set out in the government's policy document, Scotland's strategy for
stronger engagement with Germany (2007).

The report acknowledges the government's consultation document, A
Strategy for Scotland's Languages (2007), which seeks to encourage
mobility, but fails to mention the serious decline in take-up by
Scottish students of Socrates-Erasmus undergraduate (or new
Erasmus-Mundus postgraduate) study abroad opportunities. Similarly,
there is no attempt to consider languages provision (or lack of) in
the context of "internationalisation" strategies adopted by Scottish
universities. It is difficult for some practitioners to agree that
"there is no current crisis in modern language provision in Scotland".

What the SFC report does readily acknowledge, however, is that
"Scotland currently falls well short of meeting the language
aspirations of the Council of Europe". The proposal to improve
provision in the school sector is undoubtedly worth while, addressing
as it does the important issue of sector interface. However, this
should not be at the expense of asking serious questions now about how
a coherent strategy for expansion of languages provision in the
universities and colleges can and must emerge.

The recent petition (2007) to the Scottish Parliament proposed a
step-change in strategy vigorously to promote foreign language
learning and intercultural awareness in Scotland's schools, colleges
and universities. The report fails to address this proposal

Dr Murray Hill, Aberdeen
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