UK students EU’s least language proficient by over a half

UK students EU’s least language proficient by over a half

A report has found UK students to be the least language proficient in the EU with only 32% able to read and write in other languages.

An illuminating Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) report, undertaken by third year University of Oxford Classics undergraduate Megan Bowler, has revealed that the UK has the EU’s least language-proficient students by over a half.

Just 32% of UK youth know two or more languages

The report published by HEPI highlights a staggering drop in language learning by students, with just 32% of 15-30 year olds able to read and write in two or more languages.

This figure is in stark contrast with that of the second lowest in the EU – 71% of Hungary’s 15-30 year olds – and Denmark’s figure of 99%, which is over three times that of the UK.

Amidst a political climate where Brexit continues to dominate, the attitudes of UK students towards language learning have been urged to change dramatically.

In response to these findings, Megan Bowler stressed the urgency that Brexit has contributed towards this situation.

“The cultural and political implications of Brexit mean it is more urgent than ever that we re-evaluate our attitudes towards languages. Learning a language develops an analytical and empathetic mindset, and is valuable for individuals of all ages, interests and abilities.”

Removal of compulsory language learning ‘damaging’ to UK students

Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, has criticised the removal of compulsory foreign languages up until GCSE level as “probably the single most damaging education policy implemented in England so far this century.”

“We hope [Boris Johnson] will adopt some urgent new policies to encourage a love of languages and to show to the rest of the world that post-Brexit Britain will not cut itself off from the rest of the world.”

The report also suggested 15 changes that could be made to address this issue.

These include making a foreign language compulsory at Key Stage 4 and using additional government funding to safeguard minority languages and facilitate free language-learning.

Bowler has recommended improving the accessibility of languages, in order to improve their level of uptake in the future, instead of “continuing to present languages as not suitable for everyone”.

“Given the shortage of language skills in the workforce, we should safeguard higher education language courses, particularly those involving less widely-taught languages, and prioritise extra-curricular language learning opportunities for students from all disciplines.”

Josephine Walbank - Reporter, Global Education Times (GET News)

Josephine Walbank is a reporter for Global Education Times (GET News) with a focus on education in the UK, Asia-Pacific, and Americas, and student experience and lifestyle news.

Josephine is an experienced journalist who previously served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Falmouth Anchor. She is also the former Deputy Editor of Voices, the Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union’s publication, and has written for various food and lifestyle publications.

You can reach her at

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