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'Urgent need' to help 'rebuild language provision' at FE colleges, researchers from QUB say

In the first study of its kind, experts examined the provision and uptake of languages in the FE sector in the UK, including NI
Suzanne McGonagle

THERE is an "urgent need" to help "rebuild language provision" at Further Education colleges, researchers from Queen's University Belfast have found.

In the first study of its kind, experts examined the provision and uptake of languages in the FE sector in the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Their report, Languages Provision in Further Education which has been published by the British Academy, sounds a stark warning about the state of language provision in the FE sector.

It highlights severe underinvestment that has led to a substantial number of FE colleges having no languages provision as well as a widespread lack of appropriate vocational qualifications.

Dr Ian Collen, senior lecturer in Modern Languages Education (PGCE) at Queen’s and one of the report’s authors, said their "research evidence indicates sustained inequality in language provision over the past 20 years in UK further education".

"Our researchers have met passionate language learners and tutors in the FE sector, but their voices have rarely been heard," he said.

"The dearth of research shows how little is known about the sector. There is an urgent need for a forward-looking strategy to rebuild language provision, not only for the UK’s economic benefit but also to enable greater social cohesion and intercultural understanding within and beyond our frontiers."

Reseachers have made recommendations including increasing cooperation between colleges and sectors and also establishing links between schools, FE colleges and higher education.

Professor Neil Kenny, lead fellow for languages from the British Academy, said the findings "highlight worrying trends in language learning provision throughout further education in the UK".

"Without appropriate action, we risk entrenching regional disparities," he said.

"The UK has the potential to do far better with language learning. The British Academy and others have shown the multiple benefits of language learning - economic, cultural, societal, cognitive - and how to achieve them. Further education has a particular contribution to make, including through the vocational language skills and the inter-cultural agility needed by sectors ranging from trade to tourism.

"Governments across the UK should now pro-actively support further education in playing that role, including through regional networks linking FE languages provision to local universities and businesses."

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