The UK is in danger of becoming one of the most monolingual countries in the world, which could harm its performance in the global economy and its "intercultural competence" and make it less attractive as a research hub.
This was the conclusion of a review of modern-language provision in England, by the Higher Education Funding Council for England after a number of departments were forced to close through lack of interest from students and funding for research.
The review, by Michael Worton, vice-provost of University College London, concluded that student numbers in England had dropped since the Government ended compulsory language lessons in schools in England after the age of 14 and there were likely to be further falls over the years.
Between 2003 and 2008, the proportion of all students in the UK on languages degrees dropped from 3.3 per cent to 2.9 per cent. In England it was even more acute, dropping from 3.2 per cent to 2.7 per cent.
Over the same period, the number of full-time language students dropped 5 per cent compared with an 11 per cent increase in overall student numbers.
A survey of universities conducted for the review revealed that there has been a shift from pure language degrees to cultural studies. There had also been an increase in courses teaching foreign-language texts in translation, something that was "generally perceived as a form of `dumbing down' or even a betrayal of the nature and aims of a modern foreign- language curriculum," it said.
Universities should be promoting the value of languages, including explicit references to languages in their international strategies and aligning their language departments with their missions, added Professor Worton.
He pointed to his own university's use of its admission policy as a means of encouraging language study. From 2012, all UCL applicants, regardless of discipline, will need to have a GCSE qualification or equivalent in a modern foreign language.