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Proposals should be submitted by noon on Wednesday 9 January 2013.

Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Call for proposals to deliver a programme of student demand-raising activity in modern foreign languages

1. We wish to invite higher education institutions (HEIs) in England with provision in modern foreign languages (MFL) to submit proposals to deliver a programme of student demand-raising activity, with the aim of sustaining modern foreign language education in England. Proposals should be submitted by noon on Wednesday 9 January 2013.

2. The successful institution will be expected to deliver the programme for a period of three years from 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2016, to run consecutively after the existing programme. 


3. The remit of this call for proposals extends to all modern languages. It is not restricted to modern European languages (for example, those warranting separate panels in previous Research Assessment Exercises).

4. As part of HEFCE’s support for MFL as a Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subject (SIVS), we have supported the Routes into Languages (Routes) project to increase the take-up of modern language degree programmes in England. The current round of funding for the Routes project will conclude in July 2013.

5. An evaluation of the Routes programme, undertaken by SQW and published in May 2011, concluded that Routes has made good progress against its aims, particularly in terms of increasing participation, raising the profile of languages and establishing partnerships and collaboration both within the higher education (HE) sector and between HE and schools. In 2009, Professor Michael Worton’s ‘Review of Modern Foreign Languages provision in higher education in England’ (HEFCE 2009/41) noted that: ‘there is strong evidence that the nine regional consortia of Routes into Languages are making significant contributions to interest in and study of languages. This regional focus is particularly significant and has resulted in some innovative and potentially sustainable inter-sectoral and cross-sectoral partnerships’ (paragraph 38).

6. HEFCE continues to support MFL within our new policy approach to SIVS. Our support to date includes:

  1. A tuition fee supplement for students engaging in a year of study or work abroad through the Erasmus exchange programme, or study abroad through another route, from 2014-15 onwards. This supplement is intended to compensate institutions for the costs involved in participating in exchange programmes.
  2. Exemption from the adjustments to student number controls for 2012-13 and 2013-14, on condition that institutions sustain provision at current levels.
  3. Ongoing investment into demand-raising activity in MFL.

Details of HEFCE’s support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), modern foreign languages, and quantitative social science can be found at 

7. We are launching an open competition for a new programme of student demand-raising activity, which will seek to build on the Routes programme to deliver our core aim of increasing and diversifying MFL participation in HE in England. A key issue will be that the new programme should promote the principle identified in Michael Worton’s 2009 review, which is that the MFL community should seek to secure its own future, rather than rely on government funding.  

MFL in context 

8. When considering how best to continue our support for MFL, we have taken into account the broader policy context.

Schools and colleges 

9. The impact of policy and trends in primary and secondary schools can be felt in HEIs, firstly in terms of the range and volume of potential applicants and of their preparedness for university study, and secondly with regard to teacher supply. The latter can produce a virtuous circle effect, as well-qualified teachers inspire new generations of students. There are signs that the English Baccalaureate (introduced in 2011) could drive an increased uptake in languages at Key Stage 4. However, this will take some time to take effect. The Government also proposes the statutory inclusion of languages at Key Stage 2, and is considering further reforms to GCSEs and to A‑levels. The new programme should complement and build on these developments.

The year abroad

10. In 2012 the Government and HEFCE agreed an approach to fees and grants that seeks to keep in balance the supply and demand for exchange programmes. Additionally, we suggested that future demand-raising activity in MFL should seek to promote outward mobility by students in all disciplines, given the current net in-flow of students within the Erasmus programme and the widespread recognition of the employability benefits of international experience and language proficiency.  

Widening participation and outreach

11. The advent of higher fees, coupled with the longer study period generally required for MFL, may mean that MFL programmes present higher barriers than usual to students from low participation backgrounds. The new programme should complement and capitalise on the new outreach activities HEIs are undertaking in the context of their access obligations within the new fees regime.  

Economic competitiveness

12. Several studies have examined demand from employers for MFL skills, including a December 2011 Education and Employers Taskforce report, ‘The Economic Case for Language Learning and the role of Employer Engagement’. They illustrate that inadequacy in language proficiency is seen as a problem for the UK’s national economy and international position, and that UK graduates with foreign language skills continue to be sought after by employers. The Confederation of British Industry Education and Skills Survey 2012 reports that 21 per cent of companies are concerned that weaknesses in foreign language proficiency are losing them business, and that among these, 52 per cent are looking to recruit staff with the appropriate skills. The British Academy has also recently highlighted the centrality of modern language studies and language proficiency to a competitive economy, stressing that language scholarship is a long-term investment for the individual, for research, for competitiveness and for society at large. These arguments are made in two reports: ‘Language Matters’ (2009) and ‘Language Matters More and More’ (2011).

13. In addition to language skills, a joint British Academy position statement with the University Council for Modern Languages (UCML), ‘Valuing the Year Abroad’, states that employers are also seeking cultural fluency among their employees to help in building relations with overseas contacts. The new programme should demonstrate how engagement with employers will serve to stimulate demand for MFL study programmes and promote the employability of MFL graduates.

Developing the programme

14. Crucial to the development of this new programme is the need to build on the achievements of Routes and the expertise and materials the project has generated, while securing a new impetus to address the imperatives arising from the HE reforms and the reforms in schools. The programme will need to ensure that it commands the confidence of those involved with these activities. In addition, the programme should encourage the participation of HEIs delivering MFL who are not currently engaged with demand-raising activities.

15. This new programme should aim to maintain the sustainability of MFL within the broader context of HE, encouraging the MFL community to secure its own future, taking into account the new landscape for student fees and finance in HE. There are a number of elements that we would expect to see reflected in the proposals submitted to us. Each proposal should:

  1. Demonstrate awareness and understanding of the changing policy environment in MFL, and within schools and HE generally, including the particular challenges of attracting students to study MFL in the new student finance environment. The programme should complement the new landscape of outreach activity and fair access regulation following the HE reforms by building upon expenditure HEIs will be undertaking via Access Agreements and Strategic Assessments.
  2. Deliver a holistic programme of national and sub-national activities in England, to increase take-up of, and broaden the social profile of, students studying MFL in HE. The programme should provide national coverage, with coordination of different strands of activity. Programme activities should consider local and regional needs, highlight the importance of a range of different languages, and be embedded in institutional outreach programmes at participating HEIs.
  3. Illustrate how the momentum of demand-raising activity in MFL can be sustained by building on the existing programme of activity. The programme should illustrate engagement with key language stakeholders and how it will incorporate learning from issues arising from SQW’s 2011 evaluation of Routes.
  4. Demonstrate how students in all disciplines (including non-language specialists) can be encouraged to participate in the year abroad. The programme should raise early awareness of the global perspectives and intercultural competencies which this kind of interaction promotes.
  5. Demonstrate how to promote the career opportunities and employability of MFL students, and their progression to higher levels of study. The programme should develop awareness of the range of career prospects for MFL graduates and students considering MFL study at HE level. The programme should also promote progression to postgraduate studies, including to MFL teacher training courses and for applications from MFL students whose first language is English to translation and interpreting courses.
  6. Address the need to achieve long-term sustainability. The programme should include a sustainability strategy which encourages HEIs to invest in measures to address MFL sustainability. The proposal should also indicate how the programme may generate alternative sources of income.
  7. Outline the structure, experience and expertise of the proposed project team, together with the infrastructure support to be provided by the senior management team of the institution. We would consider the commitment and enthusiasm of the HEI’s senior management for the programme as being fundamental to its success.
  8. Indicate the costs of delivering the programme of activity between 1 August 2013 and 31 July 2016, and include a breakdown of all cost elements. We have set aside an indicative £1 million per annum but value for money will be a key factor taken into account.
  9. Include a robust and comprehensive formulative and summative evaluation strategy. This should allow the programme to reflect and refine the activities it undertakes, as well as the value it adds as a central point for contact, co-ordination and networking across the broader sector.

Additional information

16. The programme should be overseen by a steering group appointed by the lead HEI and approved by HEFCE. The steering group should consist of an independent chair, members from other HEIs, professional bodies (including UCML) and stakeholders (including HEFCE). The steering group should advise on strategy and direction, but the lead HEI will be the body accountable to HEFCE.

17. HEFCE will licence the successful HEI to use the ‘Routes into Languages’ brand name and logo on behalf of and for the benefit of the HE sector.

Application and assessment processes

18. Institutions wishing to discuss this call for proposals should contact Linda Allebon (tel 0117 931 7237, e-mail

19. Institutions should submit their proposals to us by noon on Wednesday 9 January 2013. Please e-mail proposals to Linda Allebon at

20. Submitted proposals will be assessed against the criteria outlined in paragraph 15 by a panel consisting of representatives from the Department for Education, the British Academy, the modern languages community, HEFCE and industry. Shortlisted institutions will then be contacted to discuss their proposal or invited to interview by the end of January 2013. Interviews will be held in London on Thursday 7 February 2013.

21. We expect to make an announcement of the successful proposal on the HEFCE web-site by the end of February 2013.

Yours sincerely


Sir Alan Langlands

Chief Executive


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Date: 6 November 2012

Ref: Circular letter 27/2012

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Senior management teams, Languages departments and centres

Enquiries should be directed to:

Linda Allebon, tel 0117 931 7237, e-mail