Deeming their language courses as “economically unsustainable”, Napier will terminate the teaching of French, Spanish and German from the beginning of the next academic year.
The announcement comes amid warnings of an “intellectual Brexit” in higher education and a drastic cut in income to higher education institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic..
The changes will see Napier follow in the footsteps of fellow Edinburgh-based University, Heriot Watt, who are to launch an external review of their language programmes, despite their Scotland-leading position in translation. Meanwhile, Dundee University announced it will drop its German programmes.
These are not the first Scottish universities to reduce their capacity for language learning, with Strathclyde University cutting back German and Italian courses in 2017.
Notoriously expensive to teach, Unions have long warned that language programmes would be amongst courses at risk in order to help universities save money in the current financial climate.
Edinburgh Napier, which specialises in vocational degrees, has traditionally offered students studying business, hospitality and tourism the opportunity to learn practical European language skills alongside their primary studies.
A spokesman for the university's branch of the Educational Institute for Scotland, the teachers' union, highlighted that these courses had “recruited strongly” and garnered high student satisfaction.
He continued: “This decision seems purely financially driven in that it reflects the marginally higher cost involved in delivering languages courses due to the need for smaller group practicals. At a time of Brexit and the need for us to work harder to maintain links to other European countries this move, which has also happened in some other Scottish universities, seems to be remarkably ill-timed. We would hope that Scottish universities would show leadership by continuing to offer courses which will allow students to converse, do business, and maintain relations with their European colleagues.
"In the context of the Brexit brain drain, Scotland will very much need graduates with foreign languages."
According to education sources, language programmes at universities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews face no threat. The numbers of students continuing with language learning to Higher level has also stabilised, despite the straggling numbers for German and Italian and the deficit of an official Russian qualification in Scotland. However, linguists warn that leaving languages to specialists risks a lack of cross-cultural understanding and harming Scottish international business.
A spokesperson for Edinburgh Napier University said: “Some programmes with a modern languages element are being withdrawn following a significant drop in new students choosing to study French and other modern languages as part of their business degree, making provision unsustainable in difficult economic conditions.
“We are continuing to invest in and develop programmes in Intercultural Business Communications within the Languages area of The Business School, where we have seen growth in recent years.
“This gives students the opportunity to access high quality, research-informed teaching covering a range of issues related to cross-cultural business, ensuring they are well-equipped to thrive in the modern business world.”