Should Modern Languages students be prioritised?
At first glance, the University’s Study Abroad programme looks fantastic. The St Andrews Abroad scheme features at least 14 participating universities in enticing English-speaking destinations including Australia and Singapore. Furthermore, some individual schools have their own exchanges, with placements including Denmark, Iceland and even Hong Kong. For those of us considering spending our third year abroad it’s an exciting (albeit slightly stressful) time.
However, as a Modern Languages student eagerly perusing the study abroad options, I was shocked to discover that there are far more placements abroad for those studying other subjects than those in Modern Languages. In order to become fluent in a foreign language it is essential to spend some time in a country where the language is spoken, in fact in many universities it is a compulsory part of the degree programme. Yet if you look at the tiny number of places available for Modern Languages students at foreign universities, gaining a place abroad seems unreasonably competitive.
There are currently six universities for Spanish, four for French, two universities each for German and Italian, and only one for Arabic (although to be fair, instability in the Middle East has admittedly made placements difficult). While this may seem like a good range, what they no longer tell you on the new Study Abroad website is that there are VERY limited places available at these universities (an average of two to four at each, if I remember correctly). If you’re studying Joint Honours your choices are even more restricted, with many subjects completely unavailable at foreign-language institutions, even when the partner university actually teaches that particular subject.
As an alternative to studying abroad (I say alternative, but it is the option that the majority end up doing) the University recommends applying to work for the British Council on a teaching assistantship. Yes, this is a fantastic opportunity and looks great on your CV etc, but it has two major drawbacks. One, it’s an extra year on top of your already expensive degree (whereas it counts towards your degree at other universities). Two, you have to hold an EU passport and be a native English speaker. So that rules out many of our international students. You are of course free to find your own work placement, but I think that’s a hassle that many of us just don’t have time for.
While I understand that a large proportion of students here are already abroad, I believe that the University needs to do something about the inflexibility and shortage of places on the Study Abroad programme. Although a year working as a teaching assistant appeals to some, many of us were hoping to actually study abroad while still graduating in four years, and the lack of placements is disappointing.
Image courtesy of blog.openstudy.com and europe1.fr