Activities Worton England

1. We wish to invite higher education institutions (HEIs) in England with provision in modern foreign languages (MFL) to submit proposals to deliver a programme of student demand-raising activity, with the aim of sustaining modern foreign language education in England. Proposals should be submitted by noon on .

2. The successful institution will be expected to deliver the programme for a period of three years from 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2016, to run consecutively after the existing programme.


3. The remit of this call for proposals extends to all modern languages. It is not restricted to modern European languages (for example, those warranting separate panels in previous Research Assessment Exercises).

4. As part of HEFCE’s support for MFL as a Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subject (SIVS), we have supported the Routes into Languages (Routes) project to increase the take-up of modern language degree programmes in England. The current round of funding for the Routes project will conclude in July 2013.

5. An evaluation of the Routes programme, undertaken by SQW and published in May 2011, concluded that Routes has made good progress against its aims, particularly in terms of increasing participation, raising the profile of languages and establishing partnerships and collaboration both within the higher education (HE) sector and between HE and schools. In 2009, Professor Michael Worton’s ‘Review of Modern Foreign Languages provision in higher education in England’ (HEFCE 2009/41) noted that: ‘there is strong evidence that the nine regional consortia of Routes into Languages are making significant contributions to interest in and study of languages. This regional focus is particularly significant and has resulted in some innovative and potentially sustainable inter-sectoral and cross-sectoral partnerships’ (paragraph 38).

6. HEFCE continues to support MFL within our new policy approach to SIVS. Our support to date includes:

  1. A tuition fee supplement for students engaging in a year of study or work abroad through the Erasmus exchange programme, or study abroad through another route, from 2014-15 onwards. This supplement is intended to compensate institutions for the costs involved in participating in exchange programmes.
  2. Exemption from the adjustments to student number controls for 2012-13 and 2013-14, on condition that institutions sustain provision at current levels.
  3. Ongoing investment into demand-raising activity in MFL.

Details of HEFCE’s support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), modern foreign languages, and quantitative social science can be found at

7. We are launching an open competition for a new programme of student demand-raising activity, which will seek to build on the Routes programme to deliver our core aim of increasing and diversifying MFL participation in HE in England. A key issue will be that the new programme should promote the principle identified in Michael Worton’s 2009 review, which is that the MFL community should seek to secure its own future, rather than rely on government funding.

MFL in context

8. When considering how best to continue our support for MFL, we have taken into account the broader policy context.

Schools and colleges

9. The impact of policy and trends in primary and secondary schools can be felt in HEIs, firstly in terms of the range and volume of potential applicants and of their preparedness for university study, and secondly with regard to teacher supply. The latter can produce a virtuous circle effect, as well-qualified teachers inspire new generations of students. There are signs that the English Baccalaureate (introduced in 2011) could drive an increased uptake in languages at Key Stage 4. However, this will take some time to take effect. The Government also proposes the statutory inclusion of languages at Key Stage 2, and is considering further reforms to GCSEs and to A‑levels. The new programme should complement and build on these developments.

The year abroad

10. In 2012 the Government and HEFCE agreed an approach to fees and grants that seeks to keep in balance the supply and demand for exchange programmes. Additionally, we suggested that future demand-raising activity in MFL should seek to promote outward mobility by students in all disciplines, given the current net in-flow of students within the Erasmus programme and the widespread recognition of the employability benefits of international experience and language proficiency.

Widening participation and outreach

11. The advent of higher fees, coupled with the longer study period generally required for MFL, may mean that MFL programmes present higher barriers than usual to students from low participation backgrounds. The new programme should complement and capitalise on the new outreach activities HEIs are undertaking in the context of their access obligations within the new fees regime.

Economic competitiveness

12. Several studies have examined demand from employers for MFL skills, including a December 2011 Education and Employers Taskforce report, ‘The Economic Case for Language Learning and the role of Employer Engagement’. They illustrate that inadequacy in language proficiency is seen as a problem for the UK’s national economy and international position, and that UK graduates with foreign language skills continue to be sought after by employers. The Confederation of British Industry Education and Skills Survey 2012 reports that 21 per cent of companies are concerned that weaknesses in foreign language proficiency are losing them business, and that among these, 52 per cent are looking to recruit staff with the appropriate skills. The British Academy has also recently highlighted the centrality of modern language studies and language proficiency to a competitive economy, stressing that language scholarship is a long-term investment for the individual, for research, for competitiveness and for society at large. These arguments are made in two reports: ‘Language Matters’ (2009) and ‘Language Matters More and More’ (2011).

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