The British Academy responds to University of Cambridge and RAND study on the economic value of investing in language learning

22 Feb 2022

The British Academy has today welcomed a new study highlighting the economic benefits of investing more in language learning in the UK.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the study by the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe shows that investing in languages education in the UK will return more than the investment cost.

Taking the example of specific languages, the study finds that the benefit-to-cost ratios for promoting Arabic, Mandarin, French or Spanish education are estimated to be at least 2:1, meaning that spending £1 could return about £2. Meanwhile, an increase in secondary school students learning one of four different languages could increase UK GDP by billions of pounds over 30 years.

The British Academy’s Lead Fellow for Languages, Professor Neil Kenny FBA, said:

“This study provides new authoritative economic evidence to support the case for investing more in languages education in the UK. The striking headline estimate – that for every additional £1 invested the GDP return could be about £2 – is underpinned by a rigorous, cautious and transparent methodology. The study shows that even under conservative assumptions, investing in language learning would provide an excellent return for the taxpayer, bringing handsome rewards for our economy, our society and for individuals. As the British Academy has long argued, language learning boosts trade, intercultural understanding, educational attainment, social mobility and social cohesion. It is also vital for the UK’s soft power, for defence and security, and even our health and wellbeing.

“Despite this, language learning has declined sharply in the last two decades, leading to the closure of many modern languages university departments and the downsizing of many more. It is therefore imperative that government finds ways to revive language learning at all levels. In 2020 the British Academy and its partners put forward proposals for a National Languages Strategy that would do just that, building affordably and effectively on existing initiatives and language education provision. We look forward to continuing to engage with the UK governments on this crucial issue.”

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