Investment in languages education could return double for UK economy

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According to a new study, increasing the number of high school students studying Arabic, Mandarin, French or Spanish could boost the UK economy by billions of pounds in 30 years. The study warns that the continuing decline in language learning in UK schools is undermining the country’s ability to compete internationally.

A new study from Cambridge University and the nonprofit research institute RAND Europe shows that investing in language education in the UK will bring more than investing, even under conservative assumptions.

By quantifying the wider economic benefits to the UK economy from expanding language education in schools, the researchers found that the benefit-cost ratio for increasing Arabic, Mandarin, French or Spanish education is at least 2: 1, meaning a cost of £ 1 can return about £ 2.

Researchers used a macroeconomic model to study the UK’s economic performance until 2050, when more students aged 11 to 16 – Key Stage 3 (KS3) and Key Stage 4 (KS4) – learned to speak one of four different languages. use it effectively in business. The simulation was based on the government’s successful Mandarin Excellence program, in which extra hours are devoted to language learning without affecting other EBacc subjects, and lessons are held quickly and excitingly.

The analysis showed that an increase in the number of students in the UK by 10 percentage points studying Arabic in KS3 / KS4 could cumulatively increase the UK’s GDP by 11.8 billion pounds and 12.6 billion pounds in 30 years compared to the baseline scenario. at which current levels of language support in the UK schools do not change. This corresponds to around 0.5% of UK GDP in 2019.

An increase in the number of students studying mandarin will increase GDP by 11.5-12.3 billion pounds. For the French language, the benefit is between £ 9.1 billion and £ 9.5 billion, and the increase in Spanish is estimated at £ 9.1-9.7 billion.

Wendy Ayres-Bennett, lead author and professor of French philology and linguistics at Cambridge, said: “Languages ​​play a significant role in international trade, and having a common language can, other things being equal, reduce trade barriers and promote trade. an economic assessment of some of the UK’s untapped language potential ”.

“However, since 2004 there has been a sharp decline in the spread of languages ​​in the UK. At a time when the UK government is seeking to rebuild its global economic relations, such a decline in language skills could affect the UK’s ability to compete on the global stage. ”

The researchers calculated the benefit-cost ratio using a series of estimates of the cost of education per student per year for each of the four languages ​​considered: £ 600 to £ 800 for Arabic; £ 480 to £ 720 for tangerines; and £ 240 to £ 600 each for French and Spanish.

The resulting 2: 1 benefit-cost findings for each language demonstrated that investment in language education has an identifying return not only economically but also in producing workers with the language skills needed for the UK to compete internationally. .

The report notes that while the UK has a comparative advantage due to the global nature of English as a lingua franca, English is not the only driver in some key areas of trade such as mining, energy and services, and other languages. equally important, if not more, in lowering trade barriers.

Exports from the UK are projected to increase as the number of languages ​​used by its trading partners increases. The report shows that eliminating language barriers with trading partners in Arab, Chinese, French- and Spanish-speaking countries could increase exports from the UK by around £ 19 billion a year.

Mark Hafner, co-author of the report and senior economist at RAND Europe, said: “The analysis presented in this study shows that investing in language education can pay for itself. But the idea of ​​analysis has by no means replaced or reduced education in STEM or others. EBacc subjects and replace them with languages. The aim is to demonstrate the value of improving the quality and quantity of language education for high school students in the UK. ”

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Additional information:
The economic value of speaking in other languages ​​for the UK (2022). DOI: 10.7249 / RRA1814-1

Provided by Cambridge University

Citation: Investment in language education can return the UK economy twice (2022, 22 February) received on 22 February 2022 from

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