THE number of pupils studying Russian at Higher level has risen sharply just a year before the national examinations body intends to scrap the qualification.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) decided to axe Higher Russian after 2015 because too few pupils were sitting it.

However, figures from the SQA show there was a 44 per cent increase in entries in 2014, with number rising from 36 to 52.

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Although the number is still relatively small, there are now more entries for Russian Higher than at any time since 1992.

The number is also much greater than for the qualification in Classical Greek, which was sat by just 14 pupils this year, but has been protected because of its cultural significance.

Last night the move to scrap the qualification came under fire, with campaigners arguing it made no sense at a time when the Scottish Government has put in place a strategy to try to increase language learning. There is also a concern Scotland will have almost no Russian speakers, despite the fact that Russia is the second biggest economy in Europe.

Jenny Carr, chairwoman of the Edinburgh-based Scottish Russian Forum, urged the SQA and the Scottish Government to act to save the subject at Higher.

She said: "The current absence of Russian language and culture from the Scottish school curriculum gives the erroneous impression that Russia is not relevant to us.

"Current political events in Ukraine and elsewhere should underline the importance of understanding the cultural background to Russian actions and the geopolitics of the area.

"Russian is also one of the major European languages and cultures, with Russian literature and musical heritage well known in the West.

"Until the 1980s, Russian used to be offered in a large number of Scottish schools and it should still be part of the menu of language choices available to our young people if they are to be equipped for life in the globalised 21st century."

However, the SQA refused to consider a rethink on the scrapping of the qualification, suggesting study further down the school and as part of other subjects would be sufficient.

A spokesman said: "Russian will continue to be taught through our Modern Languages for Work Purposes Units at a variety of stages, some of which are of a comparable standard to Higher.

"In addition, Russian is also available as part of the Languages for Life and Work Award."

Overall, the number of pupils sitting a language Higher has remained virtually static, with 7,474 entries in 2014 compared to 7,433 in 2013.

However, while Spanish has seen another increase, most other languages are in decline, with French - still by far the most ­popular - dropping 1.9 per cent from 4,236 to 4,157.

Other languages are looking particularly perilous, with only 1,006 entries for German and just 173 for Italian. Both subjects have seen decline over a number of years.

Dan Tierney, reader in language education at Strathclyde University, said it was a concerning set of figures.

He said: "Spanish is bucking the trend, but the other languages are still struggling and that is disappointing.

"Given all the statements about languages being important we are still losing students, and we have to ask why that is. We can have all the policy initiatives we want, but it is not happening on the ground.

"There is an argument that the Highers are too demanding in the time available to study and they are therefore perceived as a difficult set of subjects."