The Department of Education has suspended language students’ applications for teaching assistantships after the Government’s review of public spending.
The British Council has been responsible for sending 2,400 English students abroad to work as language assistants in schools, primarily in France. British students have been travelling abroad to teach for over a century – a tradition the cuts may now end. As the British Council is funded by the Department of Education, it is “subject to the current government review of all public spending” and therefore has had to delay the opening of applications for English Language Assistant placements for the academic year 2011-12.
The cuts could possibly reach £30 million from the Language Assistantship fund alone, according to George Osborne’s budget in October. It is still unclear whether the scheme will be permanently cut following this year’s suspension. The British Council website advises students to check back on the website “in due course” as it waits to find out the extent to which it will be affected.
Not only can assistantships provide opportunities for students to practise French in a real-life environment, where many find a real improvement in their language skills, but they also obtain transferrable skills in communication, time management and organisation through the world of work.
The removal of this language assistantship program could have pronounced long-term global repercussions. Judging by the students to whom the Boar spoke, many students who go on to do a PGCE from a languages degree used their assistantship in order to “test the waters.”
“Teaching assistantships can provide valuable experience and are a very useful way to spend the year abroad; I’ve personally been considering applying to do that kind of thing and it would be a shame if that wasn’t possible in 2 years due to spending cuts,” said Jordan Edwards, a first year French with German student. He added that “the year abroad is essential in a languages degree, since you don’t fully learn to speak a language fluently until you immerse yourself in it.”
This is not the first time that languages degrees have been affected by spending cuts. Prior to 2009 not only did languages students have to spend the third year of their degree abroad, but also a large part of their holidays. The department had funding in place to ensure that all students could undertake this ‘vacation residence’, which they were forced to withdraw as a result of the recession and subsequent spending cuts.
Although students habitually lean towards the assistantships, there are other options available for year-abroad students from Warwick. Many students choose not to undertake the role of language assistant, instead participating in an Erasmus exchange study placement, where students can experience a year at a university in various regions of France, including Martinique. Other, student-negotiated, options include study or placements at French-speaking universities or places of work. Numerous students who have already completed their year abroad chose not to go on an assistantship and they felt that their experience allowed them to be better “immersed” in French culture and language as they had to speak French “almost the entire time,” as opposed to speaking English for at least some of the time when working as a language assistant.