THE demise of modern languages at Scottish universities and schools has been blamed on greater parochialism since devolution.

The assertion is made in a major new report on the health of minority European languages such as Russian, Polish and Czech.

The report, by the UK-wide Higher Education Academy (HEA), follows the closure of a number of language courses at Scottish universities in recent years. The number of pupils taking Highers in some modern languages has also fallen.

The report states: "The difficulties in Scotland are, in part, a reflection of a wider problem relating to modern languages as a whole in that country, namely a tendency to regard the subject area as having low priority and little esteem.

"This tendency - has, perhaps more inadvertently than by design, been exacerbated by the advent of devolution and a consequent increased interest in matters internal to Scotland.

"This tendency may not be too dissimilar to what has occurred elsewhere in the UK, but in a country with a smaller and much more uniform education system - its effects have been felt more keenly."

However, the Scottish Government said ministers were committed to the expansion of modern languages.

Michael Russell, the Education Minister, has already announced his intention to implement the principles of the Barcelona agreement – a model where every primary school pupil is taught two languages in addition to their own.

"This is currently being piloted in several areas and the results will inform a wider rollout in the coming years," a Government spokesman said.

The HEA report went on to highlight the "virtual elimination" of Russian teaching in Scottish state schools and the loss of the Higher examination in Russian.

In higher education, the report commends St Andrews University for developing the study of Russian, with the planned appointment of a professor in 2013.

But it adds: "In Edinburgh and Glasgow, the subject has been allowed to decline: staffing has been reduced to a minimum, departing staff have not been replaced and there are no signs that new staff, whether at a junior or at a senior level, will be appointed in the foreseeable future.

"What makes this situation all the more regrettable is that in recent years student numbers, perhaps in part because of closures elsewhere, have been surprisingly buoyant."

The report concludes by calling for appointments to be made to the chairs in Russian or Slavonic languages at Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews, with other vacant posts re-filled.

A spokesman for Glasgow University said: "We are firmly committed to the teaching of a wide range of foreign languages, as the report acknowledges.

"Indeed, we offer one of the broadest ranges of modern language provision in Scotland and the UK and in the last two years we have appointed several new academic staff to the School of Modern Languages, which has grown in size."

The report also criticises the Scottish Funding Council for its response to MSPs from Holyrood's public petitions committee, which is dealing with a petition on the future of lesser taught European languages which calls for targeted funding.

The report describes the responses from the funding council as "disappointing" and adds: "Its letters to the Scottish Parliament appear to show little understanding - and a surprising degree of complacency regarding the position of modern languages generally within the Scottish university system."

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: "We are fully committed to the study of modern languages and have one of the widest ranges of modern European languages within the UK."