English, a fundamental problem
We are back to square one. English continues to be an unresolved issue. Contrary to what was approved in 2013, Catalan universities can choose not to require their students to accredit a B2 level in a foreign language to finish their studies. And so it has happened.
This affects students starting their university studies this academic year 2021-2022. Of course, some degrees require accreditation of a certain level. Some examples are the Bachelor’s Degree in English Philology, in which case a B2 level must be accredited to access the degree, or the Bachelor’s Degree in International Business, which requires a B1 level in English since the degree is taught entirely in English.
Reasons why the university does not require a B2 level in English
Why has this conclusion been reached? Let’s take a look at some history. In 2013, the Government approved that all graduates from 2018 onwards would have to accredit a B2 level in a third language (English, French, German or Italian).
When this deadline was about to expire, the universities found that a very high percentage of students did not have the knowledge of English (or a third language), so they could not graduate, so they requested, and obtained, a moratorium of four more years to apply this requirement.
Failure of public resources for language improvement in the university community
The Generalitat got down to work and set up a website (www.aprencidiomes.cat) giving advice on where and how to obtain foreign language qualifications and a grant and aid programme (Parla3) to enable students enrolled at a Catalan university to become proficient in a third foreign language. A programme that has not been very successful among students.
Now, eight years later, the Consell Interuniversitari de Catalunya (CIC) considers that these resources have not been sufficient to ensure that university students achieve B2 level language proficiency. For this reason, the CIC believes it necessary to make the criteria more flexible and adapt them to the needs of each university.
The CIC has also proposed making the ways in which knowledge and competence in third languages can be demonstrated more flexible, as well as extending the range of languages included in the accreditation, as currently only English, French, German and Italian are covered.
In this way, each university can decide which routes it considers most appropriate for its students to be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in third languages.
Finally, the Govern has announced that level B2 will no longer be a requirement for a university degree.
How will universities manage the accreditation of languages?
In short, students will now simply be required to prove that they have sufficient knowledge and competence in a foreign language, and each university will be able to decide how to demonstrate that its students have an adequate level of English, French, German or Italian.
Will there be a common agreement between universities, and will they agree on basic guidelines to work on? It is difficult to know since the position of the universities so far has been disparate: there have been universities that have opted to include subjects in English and others that have not.
Moreover, this decision may mean that the requirements for students on the same degree programme may be different depending on the university where they choose to study. In turn, this may mean that some universities may use the foreign language scale as a marketing tool to make themselves more attractive than their competitors.
At the moment, some universities accept a final degree project in English to validate language proficiency. In contrast, others require a certain number of credits to be taken in a third language that is neither Catalan nor Spanish. Others do not even consider any requirement and have eliminated the requirement to accredit a B2 level in a foreign language to graduate.
All this will lead to inequality among graduating students, as some will have a much higher linguistic level than others, depending on the university where they have taken their degree.
The data are devastating. A recent study concluded that Spain has the same level of English as 10 years ago and is still at the bottom of Europe, with a level similar to that of Italy, Belarus or Albania.
It is a pity that decisions of this magnitude are being taken. It is especially worrying when youth unemployment is soaring and, at the same time, studies indicate that a third of job offers require a good level of English. Quite a contradiction.