Scottish university considers scrapping all language degrees

Gaelic, French, German and Spanish could soon be discontinued at one of Scotland's oldest universities.

University of Aberdeen considers scrapping all language degrees Getty Images

One of Scotland’s oldest universities is considering scrapping all of its language degrees.

The University of Aberdeen said a long-term decline in students taking up such classes meant the current programme is “unsustainable”.

The institution has set out a series of proposals which could see Gaelic, French, Spanish and German pulled.

The University presented three options for the future of languages at the institution.

The first proposal would see single honours degrees in French, Gaelic, German and Spanish fully discounted.

Students would be required to pass fewer courses in order to complete a joint honours.

“This option might also encompass a reduction in the number of languages offered to three or two languages,” the consultation said.

Gaelic sign
Gaelic is among the languages that may no longer be offered as a degree at the University of Aberdeen.

The second option would scrap single and joint honours in French, Gaelic, German and Spanish but retain a suite of “with language” programmes. The University points to an example of a degree in “International Business with French”.

A third option would cut all programmes with a named language component completely.

The University of Aberdeen said it would still offer language courses that could be taken by students as elective courses “where this can be accommodated in their degree programme”.

“This would typically be at first year and to a lesser extent second-year level of studies,” it added.

The University said there had been a “steep fall” in undergraduates studying modern language degrees UK-wide.

It said that was a long-term trend at Aberdeen despite “significant efforts” by staff and national initiatives over the years to halt the decline.

In 2021, the University had accepted 62 new full-time equivalent students into a language course but by 2023 the number accepted into such a degree fell to 27.

That means it has a high ratio of staff to students – about 37 teachers to 28 learners – meaning “income does not cover even the direct costs of staff delivering modern languages provision before any central costs” such as library, IT and student services.

This has led to a projected deficit over the next year of £1.64m, the University said.

A series of meetings with staff and students will be held to discuss the consultation options.

The University said it was still its “firm intention” to offer students the opportunity to learn languages in some form.

It said any students currently enrolled on a language programme will be able to complete their studies.

Professor Karl Leydecker, senior vice principal and chair of the languages steering group, said: “It is deeply regrettable that the provision of modern languages at the University is unsustainable in its current form, with low and falling numbers of students.

“The steering group looks forward to engaging with the school to explore the options through the process of consultation before reaching final conclusions on our future provision.

“It is clearly a very difficult time for staff in modern languages and the wider School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture. A range of support is being provided.” 

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