The British Academy is today launching a pilot for a project mapping foreign language teaching and research in the UK.
Starting with Arabic, the interactive map shows teaching provision, capacity and pathways of the language, from secondary school to postdoctoral research on the culture and history of the Arabophone world.
The resource is the first in a proposed series to develop a comprehensive and interactive map of language provision throughout the UK. This follows concerns about falling student numbers for languages and cuts to university departments – since 2007, at least 10 modern languages departments have been closed, with similar numbers downsizing their undergraduate provision. Over the last five years, the number of students studying languages at undergraduate and postgraduate level has fallen by 14%.
The mapping tool will enable universities and employers to identify centres of activity for different languages by identifying hotspots and gaps in language provision.
The map will be regularly updated to build a more accurate picture of the provision of Arabic, and if the pilot is successful, similar maps will be developed for other languages.
The British Academy’s recent submission to the Government’s review of post-18 education and funding highlighted the importance of maintaining healthy, innovative and evolving disciplines, including languages, to meet national skill and knowledge needs. It is a step towards an observatory function to monitor student and institutional behaviours, for which the British Academy has called.
Arabic is spoken by more than 250 million people across the Middle East and North Africa. Demand for Arabic speakers and interest in learning the language is likely to increase, given the social and political importance of the regions, yet to date there has been limited research on the language in UK higher education.
Nigel Vincent FBA, Chair of the project’s Steering Group, said:
“Languages are a skill prized by employers but if provision is patchy, so too will be the workforce. We hope that this project will help to build a clear picture of provision and enable discussions about how to tackle skills gaps.
“Mapping language provision across the country and tracking it over time has never been more important.
“This exercise launches today with Arabic, a major world language and one taught and researched in a wide variety of institutions across the UK.”
The map is available at http://languagemap.britac.ac.uk/
The map draws on data and reports from institutions including the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the British Council and data collected directly from universities to show:
· The number of undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students learning Arabic
· The number of academic staff involved in researching and teaching Arabic
· The number and geographical distribution of higher education institutions (HEIs) offering Arabic
· The number of courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level (including joint honours e.g. Arabic and Business)
· The different varieties of Arabic taught.