An increase in secondary school pupils learning Arabic, Mandarin, French or Spanish could boost the UK economy by billions of pounds over 30 years, according to new research. The study warns that the ongoing decline in language learning in UK schools is undermining the country’s ability to compete internationally.

A new study from the University of Cambridge and the not-for-profit research institute RAND Europe shows that investing in languages  in the UK will return more than the investment cost, even under conservative assumptions. 

By quantifying the wider  to the UK economy of extending languages education in schools, researchers found that the benefit-to-cost ratios for increasing Arabic, Mandarin, French or Spanish education are estimated to be at least 2:1, meaning that spending £1 could return about £2.

Researchers used a macroeconomic model to examine UK  between now and 2050 if more pupils aged between 11 and 16—Key Stage 3 (KS3) and Key Stage 4 (KS4)—learned to speak one of four  so they could later use it effectively in business. The modeling was based on the Government’s successful Mandarin Excellence Programme, in which extra hours are devoted to  without affecting other EBacc subjects, and lessons are fast-paced and engaging.

The analysis showed that a ten percentage point increase in UK pupils learning Arabic in KS3/KS4 could cumulatively increase UK GDP by between £11.8bn and £12.6bn over 30 years, compared against a baseline scenario in which the current levels of language provision in schools do not change. This corresponds to about 0.5% of the UK’s GDP in 2019.

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