The Faculty hopes that the joint Tripos in Modern Languages and Linguistics will launch in the next two years.Louis Ashworth

The Modern and Medieval Languages (MMLL) Faculty intends to launch new joint triposes, combining Modern Languages with Linguistics or Film, in an overhaul forced by falling applications.

The Faculty has suffered a 40% drop in applications to the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos across four years, between 2019 and 2023.

The Faculty hopes that the joint Tripos in Modern Languages and Linguistics will launch in the next two years.

A joint degree in Modern Languages and Film is also in development, with the Faculty “actively exploring other possible combinations of subjects” to attract student applications.

The MMLL Faculty cited several factors for declining applications, including: “Government education policy, especially at KS3 and KS4, stretching back two decades, the decline in numbers of students studying languages at both GCSE and A-level (or equivalent), Brexit, and the cost-of-living crisis (which impacts our four-year degree particularly).”

Professors John David Rhodes and Ianthi Tsimpli, Co-Chairs of the MMLL Faculty, told Varsity: “The Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics accepts that the landscape for applications to study languages at university-level has in the last several years changed dramatically.”

This shift has taken place “at Cambridge, at our peer institutions, across the HE sector and more broadly in other English-speaking countries,” the professors said.

The Faculty highlighted their work to make language learning more accessible, including their ‘Think Like a Linguist’ programme, a new languages outreach initiative, as well as the recent appointment of an outreach coordinator, Emilia Wilton-Godberfforde.

The Faculty is also seeking to extend provision for all their languages to be studied from scratch. Currently, French is only offered to students who have already studied to an A-level or equivalent standard.

These changes are set to take place “in the context of a broader institutional review of provision in the Humanities”.


Mountain View

David Mitchell returns to Cambridge for new show

The academics also pointed to the role played by Professor Charles Forsdick, the British Academy’s Lead Fellow for Languages. “Charles’ presence here means that MMLL at Cambridge is central to promoting languages in the UK,” the Faculty said.

Professor Charles Forsdick spoke to Varsity about his and his colleagues’ work “rethinking modern languages for the twenty-first century,” both regarding the “diversification” of the Cambridge curriculum and “improving the national picture” through widening participation, and policy work across primary, secondary and higher education.

He highlighted the popularity and success of the History and Modern Languages Tripos, first offered to students in 2017, and the positives in the current Tripos flexibility as well as in the “exciting” new Tripos proposals.

Professor Forsdick noted that while the study of languages in the UK is undergoing a “period of turbulence” and a process of rapid change, the decrease in applications to the Tripos “is not to be seen in isolation” and, in the light of a range of initiatives in Cambridge and elsewhere, he remains optimistic about the future of languages.