The Role of the FCO in UK Government

Written evidence from Professor Ritchie Robertson, Taylor Chair of German, University of Oxford, Professor Sarah Colvin, Director, Institute for German Studies, University of Birmingham and Dr Peter Thompson, Senior Lecturer in German, University of Sheffield

We would like to submit the following points for consideration to this Inquiry.

We work in Modern European Languages (MEL-in our case specifically German) at Oxford, Birmingham and Sheffield Universities and are submitting this in response to recent concern in our field about the direction in which government thinking about MEL has taken over the past few years. Language departments around the country are under extreme pressure to cut or even close due to budgetary considerations but this comes at a point in the economic cycle in which export and globalised trade relations are said to be taking on a new significance. Apart from the obvious cultural and intellectual benefits of having a multi-lingual nation, we feel that we can make a good case for MEL degrees in purely utilitarian terms. We would therefore wish to submit the following points for consideration:

1. In response to the question posed by the Foreign Affairs Committee: "Especially given

the spending constraints set out in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), how-if at all-could the FCO better organise and utilise its financial and human resources so as to fulfil its role?":

The CSR mentioned 'strategically important languages'. European languages require support, particularly German, the language of the EU's largest and most successful economy. Our universities need to produce a regular supply of graduates fluent in German (and other languages). We therefore recommend that the FCO should institute language bursaries at appropriate universities for promising students who might otherwise have difficulty in paying tuition fees. In addition we feel that there should be no cut in the level of HEFCE teaching

grant going to Modern Languages on the grounds that they should be considered

‘strategically important’.

2. In response to the Committee's request for "submissions which address, in particular, ... the FCO's role in the management and implementation of EU business for the UK Government."

Given a worrying decline in the number of UK nationals active in the European Institutions (less than 5%), the FCO must support the interests and influence of the UK Government by actively supporting HE teaching in European languages and cultures, thereby ensuring continued entry into the European Fast Stream by talented British graduates.

More broadly, "Language skills are crucial for growth and jobs. Each year, thousands of European companies lose business and miss out on contracts as a result of their lack of language skills and intercultural competence."

(European Commission website: ‘Multilingualism’). We would like to draw the FCO’s attention to Michael Worton’s report into HE modern languages teaching of 2009, which concludes that "the study of and research into languages are just as important as STEMM." Worton notes that the current decline in modern language learning will lead to the UK becoming one of the most monolingual countries in the world, and that this has implications

* For the economy and our ability to do business competitively

* For the development of generations of young people as global citizens

* For the maintenance of the UK as a global hub for research.

The EU in its "Speaking for Europe" paper suggests that short-term savings made in the provision of modern European languages provision is a false economy in the most straightforward sense: "The EU is convinced that the cost of promoting the use of a second and third language by EU citizens is modest compared with the professional and personal opportunities lost – and the negative effects of the EU economy [...] – due to inadequate language skills." This means that a key element in the FCO's management and implementation of EU business for the UK Government must be the championing of modern European languages.

3. The most recent report by HECSU (

m) shows that MEL graduates continue to be highly sought after by employers. On all counts, from employability to initial income levels, Modern Languages graduates come just behind the most practical degrees in Medicine and Law. One of the reasons for this is that an essential part of a Modern Languages degree is the compulsory Year Abroad, which gives students an edge in language skills, life experience and maturity. Given that the European Parliament is reportedly having to cancel debates due to the shortage of native English-

speaking interpreters and businesses are losing contracts because of a shortage of good translators and interpreters, we see the defence of MEL degrees in our Universities as a

central challenge for the Foreign Office.

29 November 2010