Opening the University for Language Learning: the Open Language Programme

Author(s): G. García-Soza, A.Callaghan
Institution/Organisation: University of Essex (UK)


This case study portrays the Open Language Programme (OLP) created in 1999 by the Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex, in response to the national and local decline in language learning. The National Curriculum, instituted by the British government 1988, as well as the decision to remove the statutory requirement for a modern language at the secondary level of compulsory education (Key Stage 4) in 2004 created a ripple effect, causing many University language departments in Britain to close or reduce their courses for lack of students. This was felt acutely at the University of Essex, a small university with a student population of approx. 6.000 at the time.

The Department of Language and Linguistics has had a good-sized modern languages teaching operation for some thirty years. Traditionally, it teaches students within the Faculties of Social Sciences, Humanities and Comparative Studies studying towards a degree with a modern language as a major component. Students from departments such as Art History & Theory also have the opportunity of studying a language as complementary option within their degree programme. However, until the inception of the OLP, language learning at Essex was limited to relatively few degrees, excluding the majority of students from language learning on campus. The OLP addressed this issue by giving access to language study to all University students, and as a highly innovative move, to members of staff and the community outside. Instead of generating additional costs, the OLP accommodated the newly recruited students into the department’s existing language provision, drawing on human and material resources which had become underused due to the national decline in student numbers. These additional students became a significant factor in insuring the continued viability of the department’s language teaching activity. The OLP now offers all members of the University as well as the local population an enriching experience, with student numbers increasing from just 27 in 1999-01 to 216 in 2007-08. OLP students are subject to the same stringent quality assurance procedures as degree students; this allows them to gain credits for successfully completed courses, which in turn can be accumulated towards a qualification in modern languages.

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