Australian universities target second language "crisis"

Sunday, June 3, 2007

A group of Australian universities have called for an effort to counter the falling numbers of students learning a second language, calling the current situation a "crisis".

The group released a proposal on Friday that requires primary students to learn a second language up to the year ten and a 10 per cent bonus on university admission scores for those passing a second language subject in their final year at school.

Group of Eight universities executive director Michael Gallagher says recent figures show year 12 students graduating with a second language have dropped from 40 percent to 13 percent over the past four decades, and as low as 6 percent in some states.

Terming the decline in foreign language education a "crisis", Gallagher said that it was a problem "we can no longer afford to ignore".

The Group of Eight - University of Adelaide, Australian National University, University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, University of Sydney, and the University of Western Australia is a lobby group for the tertiary institutions generally considered to be the most prestigious and research oriented in Australia.

A press release by the group said, "It is Australia's great unrecognised skills shortage, and the one most directly relevant to our competitiveness and security in an increasingly global environment."

A study paper released by the group found that the 66 languages offered by universities 10 year ago had dropped to 29 today. "Of the 29 languages still on offer at tertiary level, nine are offered at only one Australian university and only seven are well represented across the sector", it said.

Education Minister Julie Bishop said the Government supported languages teaching through its $112 million school languages program, delivered through the states to schools. Ms Bishop said while she agreed with the encouragement of teaching a second language in schools, higher standards in literacy is a "national priority".

Other universities have endorsed the plan - the University of Tasmania today called for immediate action to prevent Australia becoming a "monolingual nation".