08 Dec 2023

ITI backs language teaching at the University of Aberdeen

ITI's Chief Executive has written to the University of Aberdeen expressing the Institute's concerns regarding plans to restructure the provision of languages and cultures degrees at the university.

FAO the Head of LLMVC, the Senior Vice-Principal, and the Principal & Vice-Chancellor

Dear colleagues

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) has been made aware of plans to restructure the provision of languages and cultures degrees at the University of Aberdeen. We understand that the language courses currently taught in the school of Language, Literature, Music, and Visual Culture (LLMVC) are potentially at risk of closure as part of a wider programme to address budgetary pressures. At present it is not clear whether the proposed changes will have an impact on translation and interpreting courses and so we are seeking clarification on this aspect of the proposals. However, based on the information currently available, we wish to register our serious concerns about the potential loss of degree-level language courses in the north of Scotland and the harm that this could cause within the languages sector.

We note that the University of Aberdeen has a long and highly distinguished history of leadership in languages and cultures. Staff within the LLMVC school hold national advocacy roles, as well as leadership roles in learned societies and editorships of international journals. It is also important to note that the University of Aberdeen is a lead partner for the new language mentoring programme developed with Scotland’s National Centre for Languages (SCILT). This strategic scheme is aimed at sustaining the pipeline of linguists moving from secondary into tertiary education over the coming years. In 2023/24, its second year of operation, the scheme is reaching nearly 300 students in 28 schools across Scotland.

We would also like to highlight the vital role that linguists play in many sectors of our society, including the education of future generations of school students. Unless Scottish universities commit to ensuring a pipeline of language graduates there will be consequential shortages of skilled and capable linguists who can take up teaching roles in the country’s secondary schools, leading to an inevitable, and highly damaging, decline in language capacity, which will in turn impoverish Scotland’s intellectual and economic prospects.

Failing to ensure that language skills are valued, and that teaching is effectively resourced, also poses a major risk to Scotland’s future financial prosperity. We note the following statement taken from Upskilling Scotland: The Future of Skills and the Fourth Industrial Revolution published by SCDI’s Skills and Employability Leadership Group in January 2020.

In an increasingly global economy and society, demand for language knowledge and skills and socio-cultural awareness will only increase to better understand customers and markets. The Scottish Government’s Export Growth Plan (2019) notes that language barriers are a significant barrier to the key objective of further internationalisation of the Scottish economy. Scottish businesses are often unable to maximise opportunities for increasing their exports to key target markets from Brazil to China to France due to a lack of linguistic skills or socio-cultural awareness in their workforce… Improving the language skills of Scotland’s workforce could therefore boost the Scottish economy by up to £6.3 billion.”

The report goes on to make the following recommendation:

The Scottish Government, local authorities and employers should escalate investment in Modern Languages education and linguistic skills in the workforce to close the linguistic skills and cultural awareness gap which is impeding Scottish export and business growth.”

This echoes the findings in Languages for the Future: The foreign languages the United Kingdom needs to become a truly global nation, a report published by the British Council in 2017 which states:

But all should recognise that the UK’s language deficit remains a threat to our overall international competitiveness, influence and standing in the world, as well as to our citizens’ ability to play a meaningful role in the global economy and in an increasingly networked world. We have now reached a critical juncture where investment in upgrading the UK’s language skills, which give unparalleled access to cultural knowledge and understanding, will pay important dividends.”

While a number of initiatives aimed at addressing the need to bolster language learning have recently been put in place, including the launch of The Languages Gateway in November, a great deal more needs to be done to reverse the declining numbers of students choosing language courses. The current proposal to withdraw support for languages degrees is therefore incomprehensible, and we strongly urge the senior leadership team to reconsider their approach. Given that there is a well-respected and highly-committed team of academic staff already in place within the LLMVC school, we would suggest that the University of Aberdeen is well placed to drive positive change in the sector and to become a champion of language skills. The current situation should therefore be seen as an opportunity to recommit to the existing programme of degrees in languages and cultures, and indeed to be part of a necessary renaissance of language and cultural literacy in Scotland.

Yours sincerely,


Sara Crofts
Chief Executive