About the project

Shaping the Future of Languages in Higher Education
A Response to the Worton Review, HEFCE 2009/41

HEFCE SDF Project Update, June 2011

Project Consortium: Led by the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML), working with the Association of University Language Centres (AULC), CiLT the National Centre for Languages, and the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Areas Studies (LLAS).

Objectives: The aims of the consortium have been to support, unite and thereby strengthen the MFL subject community through consultation and collaboration, building consensus around a sense of shared identity and common purpose. The ongoing goal is to raise the profile of languages at departmental, institutional and national level, engaging with internal and external audiences, and articulating a powerful case for language study in response to declining market share and lack of confidence.

Working methods and outputs: Working on the premise that the very process of consultation and engagement was crucial for success, we proceeded via presentations and group discussions in plenary meetings and committees of subject associations, in addition to organising dedicated consultation meetings (in London, Leeds and Bristol). We have engaged in extensive email consultation, circulating draft documents for comment and inviting contributions from across the academic community. Three working groups coordinated input on the following broad themes (which evolved over the months):

• Shared Identity and Common Purpose – Unity embracing Diversity
• Institutional agendas and Internationalisation
• Employability and Contribution to Society.

Telephone conferences were used by the Steering Group and Working Groups in addition to organising physical meetings.

Our approach was to agree key challenges and priorities; share expertise and perspectives; define and deliver small-scale research in support of advocacy for languages; and finally, produce and disseminate practical materials in the form of a toolkit designed to support MFL academics. It became clear that the main target audience of our work should be Heads of Department and other subject leaders, for they face major challenges and can play a decisive role in shaping the future.

The project themes crystallised into three key words which are central to the agenda of the HE languages community: Identity, Internationalisation, and Employability.
The website and toolkit materials have been organised under these headings.

Resources: There is often limited understanding beyond the MFL community of what our study programmes and research involve, so key documents set out to explain our identity and the importance of our work. Materials include statements defining the nature and scope of Modern Languages research, accompanied by case studies which illustrate the breadth, diversity and value of our contribution. Practical guidance on establishing beneficial relationships with professional organisations and external partners stands alongside information on the vast range of subject associations which language colleagues may find useful. Materials range from a substantive report which provides Labour Market Intelligence on language and intercultural skills, to an annotated bibliography on developing student employability and entrepreneurship; advice on Service Level Agreements between language departments and careers services; or tutorials on employability. Guidance is offered on curriculum development through international collaboration; the advantages of study and work abroad; the contribution of languages to university international strategies, and so much more… Large or small, all documents are designed to support MFL success by providing accessible information relevant to the project’s key themes.

Resources can be freely downloaded from the website; a few outstanding documents are scheduled to be completed in July, and an overall project introduction and report will then be added.

Dissemination: The website is the central ongoing vehicle of dissemination. Project materials were presented at the UCML plenary at LSE, 10 June 2011. They were also displayed and promoted at the MHRA-IGRS conference on ‘The Future of Modern Languages’ at Senate House, London, 17 June 2011. The official website launch will form part of the one day LLAS/UCML workshop: ‘Thriving in the New World of Higher Education’ designed for Heads of Department and subject leaders in Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, SOAS, London, 14 September 2011.

Sustainability: Feedback to date has been extremely positive. Integrated in some materials is the open invitation to submit further contributions in order to provide a fuller picture and continue to share expertise. There have already been responses to this invitation, and the intention is to extend the collection of materials as appropriate.

This project has worked constructively in parallel with the Speak to the Future, the Campaign for Languages, a broader national initiative covering all stages of language education. Two leaders of this HEFCE-funded project are also founder members of that campaign, in which they are particularly concerned with the campaign objectives relating directly to HE. We have therefore been able to ensure that work has been complementary and mutually supportive.

During the period of the project, one consortium partner, CiLT, went into administration and was taken over by education trust CfBT. It has now ceased all activities directly related to HE. The Subject Centre has also adapted to a change in status as a result of HEA restructuring. The project has successfully overcome all resulting difficulties. Yet they underline the value of working through an independent, membership subscription association like UCML which has autonomy and is able to reach and unite different sections of the subject community.

Funding: £52,500 over 10 months, July 2010 to end April 2011. Funding has been devoted primarily to the salary costs of those centrally engaged in leading or coordinating the project, conducting research, producing materials and developing the website.

Professor Pam Moores,
Aston University