Universities offer free courses to foster students’ appetite for foreign languages

With the number of students taking languages at A-level shrinking and a corresponding decline in students enrolling in undergraduate language degrees at universities, Britain seems destined for a monolingual future. However, a number of initiatives have been launched to counteract this worrying loss of linguistic diversity in the national education system.

One of these current developments concerns higher education: This year, following the introduction of higher fees, the number of applications to language degrees has fallen by up to 21.5% (for non-European languages; a decline of 7.7% for languages overall). If the trend continues, more language degree programmes will have to be shut down due to lack of admissions, which will further increase the skills gap bemoaned by many.

One way universities have adopted to promote language learning is by offering free language classes to their undergraduates as a way to enhance their cultural awareness and their employability. Aston University, for example, has introduced its Languages for All programme where all new undergraduate students can study one of the five languages on offer (Arabic, French, German, Mandarin and Spanish) for free. In yesterday’s Guardian article ‘Free courses – now that’s a language students understand’, Carol Marley, Associate Dean of undergraduate programmes in Aston’s School of Languages and Social Sciences explains why so many students use this opportunity to study a new language: “Learning a language doesn’t just make you more employable, it allows you to explore a culture, and that can be a real eye-opener.”

Read more about Aston’s Languages for All programme here and on the website.


Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) launched this week

In the face of relentless government reform of higher education in England, the newly-founded CDBU unites academics from numerous English universities who share a ‘distaste for treating a university education as a mere commodity, an idea that appears to be the heart of the government’s reforms’* and hope to refocus the debate.

This is their Manifesto for reform**:

The Council for the Defence of British Universities is independent of any political party, for although we oppose many of the present government’s proposals, the assumptions to which we object were equally evident under its predecessor.

Our core principle is that the Council for the Defence of British Universities exists to advance university education for the public benefit. This is underpinned by nine supporting aims:

• To defend and enhance the character of British universities as places where students can develop their capacities to the full, where research and scholarship are pursued at the highest level, and where intellectual activity can be freely conducted without regard to its immediate economic benefit

• To urge that university education, both undergraduate and postgraduate, be accessible to all students who can benefit from it

• To maintain the principle that teaching and research are indispensable activities for a university, and that one is not pursued at the expense of the other

• To ensure that universities, while responding to the needs of students and society in general, should retain ultimate control of the content of the courses taught and the methods of instruction employed. As well as often providing vocational training, university education should equip graduates with the mental skills and intellectual flexibility necessary to meet the demands of a rapidly changing economy. It should develop the powers of the mind, enlarge knowledge and understanding, and enable graduates to lead fuller and more rewarding lives

• To emphasise that, as well as often having vital social and economic applications and being subject to accountability, academic research seeks to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the physical world, of human nature and of all forms of human activity

• To ensure that methods employed to assess the quality of university research do not encourage premature or unnecessary publication or inhibit the production of major works that require a long period of gestation

• To safeguard the freedom of academics to teach and to pursue research and enquiry in the directions appropriate to the needs of their subject

• To maintain the principle of institutional autonomy, to encourage academic self-government and to ensure that the function of managerial and administrative staff is to facilitate teaching and research

• To ensure that British universities continue to transmit and reinterpret the world’s cultural and intellectual inheritance, to encourage global exchange and to engage in the independent thought and criticism necessary for the flourishing of any democratic society.

For more information about the CDBU, including details on joining, please visit www.cdbu.org.uk.

*Peter Scott: Academics have started to argue back on higher education reforms, The Guardian, 12 November 2012

**Times Higher Education, Fidei defensores, 8 November 2012

CLERA to host two workshops in HEA series: Video in MFL classroom; CLIL in HE

In the current academic year, two workshops in the HEA Discipline Workshop and Seminar Series will be held by CLERA members at Aston University:

9 January 2013: Using digital video in the Modern Languages classroom. A practical workshop
organised by Dr Claudia Gremler
This workshop provides language teachers in higher education with the opportunity to explore a wide range of uses for digital video in the MFL classroom, including practical exercises. The event introduces participants to a variety of video-based learner activities and offers a forum for an exchange of existing good practice.
Click here to learn more and to book a place.

11 June, 2013: Something to talk about: Integrating content and language study in higher education
organised by Elisabeth Wielander
This workshop draws on international research to outline the benefits of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in MFL degrees in UK Higher Education. It provides a platform for sharing practice in subject-specific content teaching through the target language and discussing implications for curriculum design and teacher training.
Click here to learn more about this event.

Languages, anyone? Languages for All, it is Aston’s round!

The British have built a reputation as the worst linguists in the world. All too often, they take it as a handy excuse for avoiding learning other languages: after all, everybody speaks English. Or do they? 94% of the world’s population do not have English as their mother tongue and three quarters do not speak any English…

The ‘severity of the languages deficit in the United Kingdom’ led the British Academy to launch the Language matters campaign in June 2009. It concluded that the decline in language learning was having a harmful impact on the ability of British and UK‑educated researchers to compete with their colleagues abroad. That failure of the UK to maintain its position as a world-class hub of research was thought to damage the UK’s economy and affect its ability to address global challenges. Continuing along the same line through Language matters more and more, the Academy asserted in February 2011 that ‘the study of languages is fundamental to the well‑being, security and competitiveness of the UK’. From 19-23 November 2012, the Academy is running its first Language Week to emphasize the value of languages in areas such as entrepreneurship or intercultural understanding. Further initiatives have lobbied for languages, such as Speak to the future that promotes five clear aims: the valorisation of any language competence as an asset (heritage languages included), a coherent experience of language learning for children in primary school, a working knowledge of two languages (English included) for all secondary school leavers, a qualification in a second language for all graduates and an increase in the number of highly qualified linguists. The recent proposal of an English baccalaureate, including a language as a core subject, shows the government’s increasing awareness of the importance of languages in challenging economic times.

Yet, what can be done for this lost linguistic generation that succumbed to the temptation of dropping languages at 14 in 2004, as a result of the government’s decision? While campaigning at national level develops awareness, action on the ground can bring real change.

So here comes Languages for All, an original initiative by Aston University, the first institution in the country to offer its new home and EU entrants the opportunity to study a language for free, through the rapidly developing University-Wide Language Programme. The LfA scheme embodies Aston’s international strategy to train global citizens and emphasizes the value of languages for life, for prosperity and for understanding. Indeed, individuals are enriched cognitively, intellectually and creatively through contact with other cultures and forms of expressions. In addition, generic and transferable skills, such as the enhancement of mother-tongue literacy and the promotion of communication skills, benefit from encounters with other languages. Multilingualism also allows companies to access new markets, and employees who provide that linguistic expertise directly benefit in their career. Finally, by introducing young people to alternative ways of self-expression and cultures, languages broaden horizons, and contribute to developing an appreciation for other communities. By so doing, they enhance cross-cultural communication and social mobility by equipping individuals for integration with other cultures.

Over 639 freshers applied to Languages for All. About a tenth did not meet the English language entry requirement and another 20% withdrew when faced with the reality of their course demands. This means that some 450 first year students are now enrolled to learn Arabic, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese or Spanish.

The LfA programme aims to awaken or rekindle interest in learning another language among students. It is hoped that participants will want to pursue their language learning experience through the University Wide Language Programme and develop the confidence to take a placement abroad in their third year, which is bound to broaden their outlook and widen their professional and personal choices.

… and who knows, the so-called British linguistic disability may soon become a myth of the past…

Dr Emmanuelle Labeau
Director of the University Wide Language Programme and of Languages for All

BrainFund: Crowd-funding your college education

The crowd-funding platform Kickstarter has been used to fund creative projects such as film productions or music projects. In a new project called BrainFund, crowd-funding is used ‘to change the way people think about college finance’.

BrainFund was created by Casey Hinson, a University of Houston finance grad and current MBA student of University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, to provide a platform for students who are looking to finance their studies without accumulating huge amounts of debt. The students create an account and profile page, providing informatioin about their school, major, minor, GPA, and the amount of money requested for a semester’s needs. Prospective donors – family, relatives, friends, but also perfect strangers – can browse these profiles and donate a micro-scholarship of anywhere between $10 and $2,000 to any students they choose.

Hinson and his partners hope to reach $1 billion in funding for students and to attract 10% of the nation’s current 20 million college students over the next five years as users.

To read more about this project, read the article ‘College by the Crowd: The New Future of School Funding?’ or go directly to the BrainFund website.