Collaboration in Strategic Subjects: the lesson of Modern Languages

Date: 11 March, 2005
Location: British Academy, London
Event type: Report launch

Event report: launch of the final report

Final report: Collaboration in Strategic Subjects: the lesson of Modern Languages

This report was produced at the end of the Collaboration Programme in Modern Languages in Higher Education. For further information or to order a printed copy of the report, contact Alternatively, the report can be downloaded in pdf format (243Kb).

The launch took place at the British Academy in London. There were 42 attendees. Eighteen HEIs were represented. Other participants were from HEFCE, UUK, the British Council, CILT, the French and Spanish Embassies and the Italian Cultural Institute, the Association for Low Countries Studies and the THES.

Programme for 11 March 2005
11.00 - 11.30 Coffee and registration
11.30 - 11.50 Professor Michael Worton, Vice-Provost and Fielden Professor of French, University College London
11.50 - 12.10 The Collaboration Programme Background and Context
Professor David Robey, Chair of the Collaboration Programme Steering Group
12.10 - 12.40 The Virtual Department of Dutch
Professor Theo Hermans, University College London
12.40 - 13.10 Higher Education and the National Languages Strategy
Dr Hilary Footitt, University Council of Modern Languages
13.10 - 14.00 Lunch
14.00 - 14.30 Round table discussion
This will be an opportunity for those present to discuss future initiatives and action in the light of the findings of the Collaboration Programme
14.30 - 15.00 Closing remarks
Dr Liz Beaty, Director of Learning and Teaching, HEFCE
There will be an opportunity for questions
15.00 Close


Michael Worton, Professor of French and Vice-Provost of University College London, introduced the proceedings with an overview of the current state of languages in the UK . Despite the rather gloomy state of language learning in this country, his message was a positive one: the National Languages Strategy has some merits though the benefits may not be felt in HE until those exposed to the primary languages initiative are in higher education. He noted the increase in cross sector collaboration though more should be done in this area. He emphasised the need to work with government departments including the Treasury to promote languages. Internationalism is currently the biggest agenda in universities and there should be opportunities for modern languages staff to take advantage of this.

David Robey, Chair of the Collaboration Programme Steering Group, outlined the background and context to the programme. He noted that, although there is a logic to collaborating, it is both difficult and costly. He stressed the need, therefore, for collaboration to be incentivised through separate funding streams. This Programme had shown that collaboration makes development possible. The Programme had been successful because it had been a bottom up' initiative rather than imposed.

Theo Hermans, Professor of Dutch at UCL and Director of the Virtual Department of Dutch Project described the aims and work of the project. Departments of Dutch at UCL and the Universities of Cambridge, Hull and Sheffield had worked together on collaborative teaching and the development of study packs and other web based resources. Funding of £75,000 from the Programme had enabled the project to seek further resources so that the project as a whole had been in receipt of £2.5 million. The project had given greater recognition to the department and had formed part of the successful CETL bid, Languages of the Wider World, submitted by SOAS and UCL.

Hilary Footitt of UCML and the Collaboration Programme Steering Group outlined the DfES research project she had directed. The aim of the project was to map the state of languages in Higher Education and to produce recommendations, which would help the DfES to implement the National Languages Strategy in Higher Education. The evidence for the research came both from quantative data from HESA and qualitative data from interviews with staff in six institutions. The research also included a mini-project surveying the motivations of non-specialist language learners in one institution.

Liz Beaty, Director of Learning and Teaching at HEFCE, commended the work of the Programme noting that the 10 projects had built up to something greater than the sum of its parts. The collaborative work carried out across the programme was, in many respects, ahead of its time'. She noted that HEFCE is carrying out a review of strategic subjects including modern languages in response to a request by the Secretary of State. The aim initially, is to establish a set of criteria for determining which subjects are both strategic and vulnerable. The Higher Education and the Subject Centres had key roles to play in supporting such subjects.

The launch event proved to be an excellent forum for reflecting on the achievements of the programme and for strategic discussions on ways of supporting and promoting languages in future.