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Education in the Media: Wednesday 27 February 2019

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Today’s Education in the Media blog looks at Modern Foreign Languages, higher education access, and new university subject rankings.

Modern Foreign Languages

Today, Wednesday 27 February, BBC Online reported on their own analysis of the uptake of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) in schools. The story says foreign language learning is at its lowest level in secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with German and French falling the most. The Schools Minister Nick Gibb was also interviewed on this for the Today Programme.

We want to see more pupils learning languages, and this is one of the reasons that we brought in the EBacc – to hold schools to account on the proportion of pupils taking a combination of subjects that includes a foreign language.

In January, the Schools Minister also announced the University of York as England’s first MFL centre for excellence. This is backed by £4.8m in funding and will coordinate the work of nine MFL hub schools across the country to pioneer teaching practices and encourage uptake.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: 

Ensuring more young people learn a foreign language helps to broaden their horizons and ambitions as well as ensuring this country remains an outward looking global nation. Since 2010 the proportion of children taking a language at GCSE has risen from 40% to 46% in 2018 – and we are determined to see this rise further.

We are taking a range of measures to do this, such as creating a new network of schools that excel in the teaching of languages to share their expertise and best practice with others and setting up a new mentoring project to encourage pupils’ interest in languages.

Our £10million Mandarin Excellence Programme is aiming to put at least 5,000 young people on track to fluency in Mandarin by 2020. We also want to continue bringing in great languages teachers and are offering generous financial incentives worth up to £28,000.

Higher Education Access

Today, the Higher Education Statistics Agency published data on the number of UK undergraduates attending top UK universities. This was covered by BBC Online, the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and the Mail.

The statistics show that there are 7% fewer UK undergraduates at Oxford University than a decade ago, and 5% fewer at Cambridge University – whilst the number of overseas students has been rising.

We are continuously working to broaden access to higher education for people of all backgrounds

A Department for Education spokesperson said: 

Our universities are renowned across the globe for their excellence and we recognise the contribution which international students make to the system.

Universities are independent, autonomous institutions and 2018 data show there were record rates of 18 year-olds going to university, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We set up the Office for Students to champion the interests of students and have required providers charging higher fees to approve access and participation plans with the OfS.

QS Subject Rankings

Today, QS released their university subject rankings. This is based on individual subjects and is separate from the world rankings of institutions as a whole. The Times and BBC Online both reported on this.

The rankings show that the UK has a top university in 34 of the 48 subject tables. The rankings are compiled using data on research citations, combined with the results of major global surveys of academics and employers.

The BBC’s article reports on a warning from QS that the UK's strong performance in international league tables could be adversely affected by Brexit, if access is disrupted to European funding and research partnerships.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

We already know that our universities are world leading with 4 in the top 10 and 18 in the overall top 100 according to the QS World Rankings but I want to congratulate the sector on the increased number of top 10 subject rankings occupied by UK Universities from 125 in 2017 to 137 in 2018.

We are very proud to see that the UK has a top 3 university in 34 of the 48 subject tables, as announced today.

In an increasingly competitive global market, this Government has introduced a number of options to ensure our students are receiving better value for money and are more prepared for the workplace after graduation.

The latest UCAS data shows the overall the numbers of applicants and acceptances from EU nationals to full-time undergraduate higher education were both higher than in 2017, with the number of acceptances from the EU at a record high. This data also shows a record proportion of English 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds went into higher education in 2018.

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