A UNIVERSITY has downgraded the teaching of Italian sparking wider fears for the study of the country’s language and culture in Scotland.

Strathclyde University, in Glasgow, will no longer offer students the opportunity to study joint honours degrees in Italian.

Instead, the language will be taught at a more basic level in only the first and second years of a four year degree course.

The move brings to an end a long tradition at Strathclyde where students could combine subjects as diverse as architecture, engineering, law and politics with Italian to degree level.

The decision is the latest in a number of cuts to courses in the arts and humanities after Strathclyde pledged to focus on becoming a leading technological university.

But it also comes after a long-term decline in the study of Italian in Scottish secondary schools which has impacted on those wanting to continue their studies at university.

Joseph Farrell, emeritus professor of Italian at Strathclyde, called for the subject to be protected at degree level despite the relatively low numbers of students compared to other courses.

He said: “Downgrading Italian should not be made because of financial reasons.

“There must be a system where funding from bigger subjects is used to support smaller subjects which are desirable in terms of national objectives or cultural standards.

“It is very concerning that the university is downgrading languages at a time when we move into a globalised world.

“Of course we have to teach Chinese and Japanese, but we should be able to give due dignity to European languages.”

Ronnie Convery, the Italian consul in Glasgow, appealed for the university to reconsider the plan.

He said: “Strathclyde has a proud tradition of combining language and technical education and the results have been outstanding.

“It would be hugely regrettable if the opportunity to study Italian to an advanced level were taken away from students.

“At a time when Glasgow’s Italian population is higher than ever before, the need for competent linguists is great, and with a complex post-Brexit future looming, the city and the country will need graduates capable of engaging with Italy.”

Adriano De Marco, Scottish president of Comites, the committee for Italians living abroad, said he “deeply regretted” the university’s decision.

He said: “There is at present in Scotland a great interest in all things Italian from its culture and food to the language.

“This is supported by the fact that the Italian Club of the Learning in Later Life initiative at Strathclyde is over-subscribed.

“In these days of uncertainty over Brexit the more contact and understanding of our European neighbours is essential.”

However, a spokeswoman for Strathclyde said the university would continue to support the learning of Italian in other areas.

She said: “The university remains committed to Italian language and cultural education.

“Students will continue to have the opportunity to study Italian in the first two years of their degree.”

The spokeswoman said student wishing to study at a more advanced level would have the option of a Masters through the university’s recently-launched Translation and Interpretation programme.

She added: “In addition, we continue to offer Italian to the community through our extensive portfolio at the Centre For Lifelong Learning.”

The university has pledged all current students will be supported until they complete their courses.

Background: History of strong ties between Scotland and Italy dates back to the 19th century

THE first wave of Italian immigrants came to Scotland in the 19th century seeking an escape from harsh living conditions in their homeland.

From marginalised beginnings and periods of oppression, in particular during the Second World War when many were interned as enemy aliens owing to Italy’s support for Nazi Germany, the Italian community grew to be a vibrant part of Scottish society by the end of the 20th century.

In the 1800s, Italy was a poor country with an agricultural economy prone to drought and famine in contrast with other European states such as the UK, which were advancing rapidly on a tide of industrialisation. The escape route for many young Italians was emigration to these wealthier countries.

Italians in Scotland initially eked out a living as itinerant peddlers, but their foothold became stronger when they established themselves in working-class urban areas selling ice cream and fish and chips from barrows and stalls.

The early 20th century was a time of rapid progress, with successful entrepreneurs paying the passage of younger Italians to come over and work for them.

Between 1890 and 1914 Scotland’s Italian community grew from 750 to 4500.

By the outbreak of the First World War, there were well over 300 Italian cafes and takeaways in Glasgow alone, and Italians were opening premises across the country.

The families running these establishments became wealthier, and by the 1930s, luxury tea rooms and delicatessens had been established such as Nardini’s in Largs and Valvona & Crolla in Edinburgh.

In just over a century Italians have deeply influenced many aspects of Scottish public life.