A leading university has announced plans to recognise British Sign Language (BSL) qualifications in its entry requirements.
University College London (UCL) said that in future, BSL will be considered as meeting the institution's modern foreign language (MFL) requirement.
The university is the only UK institution that requires all of its UK undergraduates to hold at least a C grade at GCSE in another language or to sign up for courses as part of their degree.
It has now announced that it will recognise sign language as part of the requirement, saying it hopes the decision will increase awareness and access to the language.
Campaigners welcomed the move, saying it was an "important step towards greater deaf awareness", but warned that BSL is not taught as a GCSE option and that private lessons are expensive.
UCL said that recognition of BSL will benefit students from particular specialisms, such as doctors, speech and language therapists or teachers, who may come into contact with deaf signers in their careers.
Dr Mairead MacSweeney, centre director at UCL's Deafness, Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre, said: "I'm delighted that UCL has recognised BSL as a language that meets its MFL requirement.
"Students will be able to use pre-existing sign language qualifications to meet the MFL requirement. In addition, a whole new cohort of students will be exposed to the BSL teaching on offer at UCL and this will bring with it greater awareness of the world-class research conducted at the UCL Deafness, Cognition and Language research centre."
Blazing a trail
Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS), said: "UCL recognising BSL as one of its modern foreign language options is an important step towards greater deaf awareness; just as foreign language skills are vital for international cultural relations, communicating with our local community should be equally important.
"Everyone in the UK, deaf or hearing, should have the chance to learn BSL - but sadly, most people miss out because it's rarely taught in schools, there is no option to study it at GCSE and private lessons are expensive.
"I hope UCL is blazing a trail for other academic institutions because, while this is good progress, more must be done to address the lack of opportunities to learn BSL."
BSL is the first or preferred language of more than 70,000 deaf people in the UK, according to the NDCS. It was officially recognised by the Government in 2003.
It comes after a recent survey found that 97 per cent of 8 to 25-year-olds thought sign language should be taught in schools.