Monthly Archives: November 2011

Top 20 joint degree combinations taken by language undergraduates in the UK

Top 20 combinations (Source: HESA 2009/10).

Programme                                                 Number of students

1                French and Spanish                                                     2681

2                French and German                                                     1750

3                French and English                                                      998

4                *American Studies and English                            850

5                French and Italian                                                      785

6                French and Business Studies                                  662

7                Spanish and Business Studies                                  623

8                French and Law                                                            572

9                French and Politics                                                   554

10              Spanish and English                                                 520

11              Italian and Spanish                                                   453

12              Spanish and Politics                                             452

13              Portuguese and Spanish                                    382

14              German and Business Studies                         333

15              Other European Languages and Business Studies  326

16              German and Spanish                                      312

17              French and Russian                                      274

18              German and English                                     261

19              French and Linguistics                               238

20              Management and French                       229


*American Studies will include some students studying Latin American Studies as well as US studies. If you wish to exclude this then Russian and Politics comes in 20th place with 212 students.

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How many people are studying for a languages degree in higher education? Why it is hard to know.

How many people are studying for a degree languages in higher education? Does it really matter? Of course it matters a great deal to people who work in language departments. It also matters a great deal if we are to increase the number of students choosing to study languages at university.

Usually, when we talk about numbers studying each language we are presented with a table like the below. This tells us how many students are studying each language/ area study. These are the HESA stats for 2009/10:

Table 1

(R1) French studies Total                                                           14643

(R2) German studies Total                                                         5247

(R3) Italian studies Total                                                             2386

(R4) Spanish studies Total                                                         9961

(R5) Portuguese studies Total                                                    592

(R6) Scandinavian studies Total                                                98

(R7) Russian & East European studies Total                             1829

(R8) European Studies Total                                                      1538

(R9) Others in European languages, lit & related subjects        7816

(T1) Chinese studies Total                                                         1374

(T2) Japanese studies Total                                                       1253

(T3) South Asian studies Total                                                   223

(T4) Other Asian studies Total                                                   407

(T5) African studies Total                                                           235

(T6) Modern Middle Eastern studies Total                                 1224

(T7) American studies Total                                                       3763

(T8) Australasian studies Total                                                 21

(T9) Others in Eastern, Asiatic, African, American & Australasian lang, lit & related subs Total  259

TOTAL                                                                                        52,869


Table 1 tells us the number of the individual language learning experiences. However, this does not tell us how much of the language each student is studying.

  1. Table 1 does not tell us how many of the students are studying single honours French (100%) and how many are doing the language for 75%, 50%, 33% or 10% of their time. All other things being equal (though they rarely are) and assuming a direct relationship between student numbers and departmental income a student who studies a language 100% of the time will bring in three times as much funding a student who studies a language for 33.33% and ten times as much as a student who is studying a language for 10%.
  2. Moreover it does not tell us how many students are studying languages as those studying two languages will be counted twice and those studying three languages three times.

Table 2

(R1) French studies Total                                         7410.44

(R2) German studies Total                                       2092.43

(R3) Italian studies Total                                           1296.93

(R4) Spanish studies Total                                        2593.59

(R5) Portuguese studies Total                                  280.67

(R6) Scandinavian studies Total                               73.16

(R7) Russian & East European studies Total           981.18

(R8) European Studies Total                                    1390.17

(R9) Others in European languages, literature & rel 6288.31

(T1) Chinese studies Total                                        901.42

(T2) Japanese studies Total                                     914.03

(T3) South Asian studies Total                                  163.43

(T4) Other Asian studies Total                                  221.94

(T5) African studies Total                                         154.5

(T6) Modern Middle Eastern studies Total               834.75

(T7) American studies Total                                     2551.84

(T8) Australasian studies Total                                7

(T9) Others in Eastern, Asiatic, African, American & Australasian languages, literature & related subjects Total                                                                                  194.67

TOTAL (all languages)                                                28350.46


Table 2 can deal with the how much point (I’ll provide more detail at a later date). It shows us the number of Full Person Equivalent (FPE) students. HESA collects data on the percentage of their time spent studying the language. This might be as little as 10% or as much as 100%. Therefore the Full Person Equivalent of people studying languages is 28,230. That is the figure I came to whilst adding all the wholes, halves, this, quarters and tenths.

Returning to point 2 above, some students are studying two or three languages. Therefore the total number of ‘language learning experiences’ exceeds the number of actual students studying languages. If we take away the number of students studying two or more languages our number of individual students studying languages in some way drops from 52,869 individual learning experiences to 42,444 individuals.

So there are 42,444 studying languages in higher education?

No, there are several reasons why this figure is likely to be a severe underestimate.

  1. Data from London Metropolitan University, Liverpool Hope University, and University College Birmingham are excluded. That would add a few more.
  2. Reporting data to HESA is the responsibility of individual institutions. They may report up to three subjects, but that is not to say that they do. Some institutions will report a student studying a language for 10% of their time, but others may not. These figures will include some of the 60,000 ‘non-specialist’ students reported to be undertaking some sort of language study, but not all of them (CILT, the National Centre for Languages (2009) HE students of other disciplines studying   Available from:
  3. We do know that the category (R9) “Others in European languages, literature & related subjects” is overused as institutions report all their language students in this category. In Table 1 this means that a student who is studying French and German will be reported as having two language learning experiences if they are reported for French AND German, but just one language learning experience if  they are reported under ‘Others’ (R9).
  4. Similarly some languages do not have their own category. Is a student reported as studying ‘Middle East Studies’ studying Arabic, Persian, both or neither?
  5. These figures are for students of first degrees and will not include Continuing Education students or other students on non-accredited courses run by universities. I will take a look at these figures at a later date.

This has been a longer post that I intended. Whatever we make of the figures of, it is useful to think about what we want the data for.  Whatever our interests and motives we will never truly be able to answer the question “How many students are studying languages in higher education?” with any degree of certainty.

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Ten commandments of language teaching

Browsing through a 75-year-old edition of the Modern Language Journal, I came across this article entitled “Ten Commandments and One More in Modern Foreign Language Teaching” by Harry Kurtz of the University of Nebraska.

His ten tips are:

1. Thou shalt make every student recite every day.

2. Thou shalt make thy questions shorter and distribute them more frequently to the unworthy of thy flock.

3. Thou shalt demand written home-work for every lesson as an evidence of individual effort.

4. Thou mayest spare thy strength in the marking of these by having them corrected in class, but thou shalt collect them and check them off on the rolls.

5. Thou shalt refrain from personal eloquence in the classroom.

6. Remember that the strained silence of pupils thinking is worth more than volubility, thine or theirs.

7. Thou shalt plan thy hour and mark thy pages beforehand, so that never, no never, shalt thou ask thy sheep on what page they stopped grazing the last time.

8. Thou shalt have thy watch before thee to guide thee in the passing of time and to guard thee from over-stressing one thing at the cost of another. So shalt thou finish the assignment and never have the ignominy of covering less than what was imposed upon the fold.

9. Thou shalt watch thy pupils' thoughts as reflected in their faces and hurl the thunder of a question where it may be necessary to recall the straying.

10. And last, so shalt thou prosper and discover the best devices in language teaching in the measure that thou wilt insist upon work and get it.

Harry Kurz, “Ten Commandments and One More in Modern Foreign Language Teaching,” The Modern Language Journal 20, no. 5 (February 1, 1936): 288-293. Full article available from JSTOR.

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Planned obsolescence and cycling

I promised further reflections on Alex Steffan’s lecture I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I have been recently thinking a lot about planned obsolescence, that is designing a product to cease to be functional after a certain amount of time or after a certain amount of use.  The centennial light at the Livermore Firehouse in California is often cited as an example. Over 100 years after its first use the light bulb is still working. It is most often associated with technology – manufacturers not providing backward compatibility when a new version of software is released, printers which cease to work after a certain numbers of pages and products with built in rechargeable batteries which don’t charge any longer.

Regular readers of my blog (does my blog have regular readers?) will know that I enjoy cycling for work and for pleasure. Over the summer I converted my old bike from an 18 gear touring bike to a fixed gear. There were a few reasons for this – firstly after reading Sheldon Brown it struck me that fixed gear riding might be quite fun, and secondly, not that I’m known for being a fashion victim, it seems to be quite trendy at the moment (I even removed the mudguards). However, the real reason was that I needed a new back wheel for my bike and they seem impossible to get (In short I needed a 126mm axle with a freewheel block, rather than a 130mm or 136 mm with a cassette. There are work arounds, but they are expensive – it involves changing the axle spacing, buying a cassette, new chain, new shifters, front and back derailleurs. I suppose I could have got a custom made wheel, but the fixed wheel approach seemed to be the cheaper option.

Some might have limited sympathy with me complaining how I can’t get parts for a twenty-year old bike, but a the writer of a recent letter to Cycle magazine complains that he is unable to get replacement parts which were standard just one year ago. I hear that 8-speed is the next thing that will be impossible to replace.

The irony here is that cycling is such an environmentally friendly hobby (though I’ll reserve judgement on thinking about the environmental impact of events such as the Tour de France). The manufacturers of low quality Bike-Shaped Objects (BSOs) have much to answer for the UK’s volume of unused and scrapped bikes, but manufacturers of good quality bikes are not without blame either.

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Discard the irrelevant: Statistics don’t bleed, but our students do.

I have written an new article for the LLAS blog (in a personal capacity).


Some rise by sin and others by virtue fall. William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Statistics are everywhere in education. We have the National Student Survey (NSS), the First Destinations Survey, newspaper league tables, and the Times World University rankings among others. Universities are now required to publish ‘Key Information Sets’ (KIS) from 2012. The KIS has data from the NSS (the higher the agreeing percentages the better), the cost of university accommodation (presumably the lower the better), fees (the lower the better), graduate employment rates (the higher the better), percentage of assessment which is written exams (depends on the student) and number of ‘contact’ hours (again, depends on the student). In short if it can be measured the data is out there. And if it can’t be measured, we’ll find a way to measure it anyway, (research impact anyone?). Add to all this the information that students get from visit days, Facebook, twitter, the online student forums, friends and the phrase ‘information overload’ comes to mind. In his report Dimensions of Quality Graham Gibbs warns us about that immeasurable factor, reputation, which can override any real measure of quality. I suspect that all this information only serves to make reputation all the more important.

Read the full article on the  LLAS news blog

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