Higher Education and the National Languages Strategy (28 Sept 05)

Date: 28 September, 2005 - 28 May, 2005
Location: Senate House, Malet Street, University of London
Event type: Seminar

Programme | Event report

Past event summary

The Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies (IGRS)

This event used the findings of Hilary Footitt's research report on the National Languages Strategy to share ideas on promoting Modern Languages departments in HEIs. This event was organised by the Subject Centre for LLAS in partnership with The Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies (IGRS).

The recommendations of the report call for initiatives to stimulate the demand for languages, to encourage wider participation in language study, to develop international strategy in HE and to safeguard provision at national level.

The seminar aimed to explore how Heads of Department/Deans of Faculty can respond most effectively to these recommendations. The day included presentations from experts in the field as well as opportunities for discussion.

Programme for 28 September 2005
Time Session
10.00 - 10.20 Registration and coffee
10.20 - 10.30 Welcome
Naomi Segal (Director of IGRS)
10.30 - 10.45 Introduction to the day
Michael Kelly (Director of the Subject Centre for LLAS and Head of the School of Humanities, University of Southampton )
10.45 - 11.15 The National Languages Strategy in Higher Education - an overview of the findings and recommendations
Hilary Footitt (UCML Executive)
11.15 - 11.45 The DfES International Strategy
Judith Grant (Head of International Strategy and Programmes Division, DfES)
11.45 - 12.15 Engaging with the international agenda and the Bologna process
Malcolm Cook (Professor of French, University of Exeter)
12.15 - 12.45 Developing an institutional international strategy
Elspeth Jones (Dean of Leslie Silver International Faculty, Leeds Metropolitan University )
12.45 - 13.45 Lunch
13.45 - 14.15 Towards an inclusive strategy for languages - some considerations from a Scottish perspective
Richard Johnstone (Vice-Dean of Faculty of Human Sciences, University of Stirling)
14.15 - 15.15 Discussion: Sharing ideas about writing languages into international strategies and teaching and learning strategies
15.15 - 15.30 Feedback and closing remarks


Event report: Higher Education and the National Languages Strategy: Enhancing the role of Modern Languages in HEIs

by Liz Hudswell

This event was attended by over 60 Heads of Departments/Schools of Modern Languages. The aim of the day was to consider the role of Modern Languages in institutional international and teaching and learning strategies.

Before the meeting, delegates were invited to send in relevant extracts from both their institutional strategies. These were collated and anonymised. Download: International and teaching and learning strategies (rtf, 130Kb)

Introduction to the day by Michael Kelly, Director of the LLAS Subject Centre

Professor Kelly reminded those present that Languages are rising up the political agenda in the UK. On 21 September, the DfES had organised a seminar on the National Languages Strategy to which all VCs of English universities had been invited. The seminar was addressed by Bill Rammell, Minister for HE, a strong proponent of languages and a language graduate himself. He raised two key elements of context:


(also stressed by Tony Blair at Labour Party conference).

Note the rise of China, India and Far East . There is a requirement for languages if the UK is not to lose out. The Minister was convinced that 'English is not enough'.

New world situation

Note the political importance of Middle Eastern languages and the damage resulting from lack of expertise in Arabic. He referred to the importance of languages for improving international understanding and for understanding international dangers.

This context provides important opportunities for languages in HE, though we shall need to adapt and to embrace change.

Professor Kelly stressed that it is important to ensure languages are included in institutions' strategies, especially international strategies, but also teaching and learning Strategies (which are required by HEFCE) and research strategies. Languages can and should play a key role in enabling institutions to meet their goals.

The National Languages Strategy in Higher Education

Hilary Footitt, author of the report
Download: Handout (rich text format, 34Kb)

Dr Footitt entitled her paper 'the politics of influence' and looked at what strategies Deans and Heads of Modern Languages might employ to raise the standing of their department in their institution. She referred to the huge number of courses on the UCAS website which have 'international' in their title. Although some of these had a language element or a period of study abroad included in the programme, the cultural implications of operating internationally had not been fully recognised in many of the programmes. She advocated that departments of Modern Languages are best placed to offer cultural insights as part of an international strategy or international teaching programme.

There was some discussion on the value of teaching intercultural awareness. Although this was felt to be crucial in the development of 'international' graduates, there were concerns by some that the teaching of languages would be replaced with rather than complemented by the teaching of intercultural awareness.

It was also pointed out that in modern languages we have a Eurocentric view of international whereas others in HEIs will think of Anglophone cultures. There is value in getting involved in American exchanges too as these reinforce work with international students and strengthen relations with departments that send students to Anglophone countries.

It was also suggested that many HEIs were recruiting an increasing number of international staff who could also be used as 'language champions' with students and with senior managers in the institution.

The DfES International Strategy

Judith Grant, Head of International Strategy and Programmes division

All delegates were given a copy of the International Strategy 'Putting the World into World-Class Education' which is available from DfES publications (email dfes@prolog.uk.com and quote ref DfES/1077/2004)

The three goals of the strategy are

  • Equpping children, young people and adults for life in a global society and work in a global economy
  • Engaging with our international partners to achieve their goals and ours
  • Maximising the contribution of our education and training sector, and university research to overseas trade and inward investment.

Ms Grant reported that the action plan attached to the strategy would be made available on the web. Delegates were invited to look at this and respond pointing out an omissions they might perceive and/or informing the Department of any initiatives that they are involved with which might contribute to the strategy.

There was some discussion as to how funds might be levered into institutions to help them deliver the DfES International Strategy. The hosting of the Olympic Games in London was suggested as an opportunity for languages departments.

It was also suggested that qualification agencies should be encouraged to promote those students who carry out successful studies abroad.

Engaging with the international agenda and the Bologna process

Malcolm Cook, Professor of French, University of Exeter
Download: Powerpoint presentation (107Kb)

Professor Cook outlined the opportunities for language students and staff from the Bologna process. There is a need to promote mobility, study abroad. UK students are not taking advantage of the opportunities available to them. As a result, Britain is becoming increasingly isolated as our students are not mobile. It will also be important to make Vice-Chancellors aware that the Bologna Process will impact on all UK HEIs so they need to get to grips with it. They need to be aware of the role that languages departments can and should play in this and in other areas of institutional strategy. Professor Cook suggested that it would be helpful to encourage HEFCE to ask HEIs to produce a statement outlining where Bologna fitted into the institutional teaching and learning stragegy.

Developing an institutional international strategy

Elspeth Jones, Dean of the Leslie Sliver International Faculty, Leeds Metropolitan University
Download: Powerpoint presentation (349Kb)

Ms Jones provided a case study outlining how she had developed the International Strategy for LMU. She advised that it is important to look at the culture of the institution, work out a strategy that would fit with that culture and then consider how languages can fit into such a strategy. Although not a requirement yet, she suggested that HEFCE may well ask to see an international element in institutions' teaching and learning strategies.

Towards an inclusive strategy for languages - some considerations from a Scottish perspective

Richard Johnstone, Vice-Dean, Faculty of Human Sciences, University of Stirling. Director of Scottish CILT
Download: Powerpoint presentation (106Kb)

Professor Johnstone gave a presentation looking at the research that had taken place in Scotland into early language learning and motivations of language learners at all levels in Scotland. He had been invited by the Scottish Executive to consider how a National Languages Strategy should be developed and he pointed to four areas that needed to be considered: societal, provision, process and individual motivations.

Group discussion on raising the profile of languages in institutions

The following suggestions were made in discussion:

Promoting study abroad

Language departments should lobby the Socrates-Erasmus office in Kent asking them to change the rules so that UK HEIs can receive funding to give language training to students going abroad.

Having a 'rogues gallery of photos/mini biographies of students who have studied/worked abroad is an effective way of promoting residence abroad.

Influencing senior staff in institutions

Language departments should invite the VC to visit their department/unit. It would be more effective if a group of students invited the VC to visit.

It is also effective to get support for languages from the Academic Registrar or equivalent as he is likely to stay in the institution longer than the VC.

Language departments should explore the possibility of inviting senior staff from the Embassies/consulates to the institution and hosting a dinner with them and the VC.

Group discussion on the role of languages in international strategies

Three key points were singled out by the group

  • Colleagues in languages should accompany senior managers on international visits, whenever possible.
  • Departments should consider giving explicit accreditation for students' international experience
  • It is valuable to work with student associations

The following notes reflect the more detailed discussion within the group of participants focusing on international issues, responding to a series of questions.

How can language departments play a role at institutional level in international student recruitment?

Head of department or other colleagues should take opportunities to accompany university senior managers on international visits. Assist in general university recruitment and also recruit students for languages programmes.

Recruiting international students is easier in departments/Schools where English language is included with modern languages. English is an attractive subject for international students.

Work with other subject areas (e.g. management, computer science) which are attractive to international students.

International students currently have a very positive impact on department budgets.

How can language departments play a role at institutional level in the induction and integration of international students?

Need to work to encourage home students to link with international students. Possible approaches include:

  • an academic buddy system
  • holding informal events

It is very effective to involve students' union and associations in integrating international students.

International students are very diverse, and also need supporting to integrate with each other.

It is recognised that there may be no obvious motivation for languages students to develop relationships with international students from a country other than one where the language they are studying is spoken.

There is a need to work more actively on the wider issues of intercultural communication for language students.

How can language departments play a role at institutional level in developing the 'international graduateness' of all undergraduates?

It is helpful to emphasise the international environment that now exists in institutions. This should be a marketing focus, and also a feature to build in more explicitly in programmes.

There are plans at Leeds Met to introduce an 'international diploma' which students could achieve by accumulating credits from a range of courses with international relevance (e.g. language learning, intercultural studies) and from other activities (e.g. international work placement, volunteering). This will be recognised on students' transcripts.

There are valuable courses taking an ethnographic approach, developed by an FDTL project to prepare language students for residence abroad. These can be used for wider cross-cultural purposes.

How can language departments play a role at institutional level in developing international work placements for all undergraduates?

Work placements require a significant level of resource, especially staff time and expertise. Many language departments have developed this for their own students, and with appropriate additional resources could offer a service to other departments.

It was noted that some placements within the UK could have a strong international dimension.

It may be possible to secure funding through European initiatives, such as the 'Inter-reg' programme for regional cooperation.

How can language departments play a role at institutional level in developing international research networks?

Research networks in other disciplines tend to develop without reference to colleagues in languages.

With access to the European Framework Programmes, languages can now develop their own research networks, and there may be opportunities to collaborate with other subjects and to exchange ideas within the institution.

There may be opportunities to assist researchers in other subjects to develop language and intercultural competences.