THE number of students from Scotland learning a modern language at university has fallen by more than 500 in the past five years.

New figures show 3,400 students chose languages at a Scottish university in 2016/17 compared to nearly 4,000 in 2012/13.

The decline, which shows numbers are falling for German, French, Russian and Spanish, has sparked fears Scotland will become increasingly isolated in the world, particularly following Brexit.

This summer, opposition politicians called on the Scottish Government to launch an inquiry into a decline the number of pupils studying modern languages at school.

The drop has been blamed partly on curriculum reforms which mean pupils experience a broader education in the first three years of secondary.

That means exam subjects are chosen a year later than previously with a shorter time to prepare - resulting in some subjects getting squeezed out.

Professor Vicente Perez de Leon, Head of the School of Modern Languages at Glasgow University, said the school squeeze was hitting university recruitment.

And he argued language learning at school should be protected and resourced to ensure numbers increase.

“Languages are something that can open possibilities for employment abroad or having better jobs here,” he said.

“They can open minds and allow students to make connections with new people, new cultures and new literature. It should be a priority within the curriculum.”

Dr Dan Tierney, an independent languages expert, said the decline was also fuelled by the closure of some university departments.

He said: “This reflects the fact dual language study is not common in our schools.

“Beginners classes were introduced in some universities, but now courses or departments have been closed altogether.”

The importance of languages to the future of Scotland’s economy was highlighted by Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland.

She said recent data showed only a third of companies thought school and college leavers entering the jobs market had adequate foreign language skills.

“If we want to see a truly global Scotland that punches above its weight in a competitive global economy, then encouraging young people to think globally and embrace foreign languages is crucial,” she added.

And Lucy Young, acting deputy director for British Council Scotland, said any reduction in the number of students studying languages at university was “regrettable”.

“We need to do all we can to promote the huge benefits that can be gained by having language skills, such as enhanced job prospects and greater competence across cultures,” she said.

The Scottish Government’s current strategy to boost languages is centred on its 1+2 policy, where all pupils are expected to learn two additional languages as well as their mother tongue.

The policy has been hampered by the fact there are not enough qualified staff across the primary school sector to ensure the breadth of languages on offer is sufficient.

And critics argue a failure to focus resources on languages such as French, Spanish, German and Italian will lead to further decline.

However, a report last month by the Reform Scotland think tank suggested language learning could be transformed by harnessing the 158 languages spoken by Scottish pupils at home.

These “community languages” include Polish, Urdu, Punjabi,Arabic and Chinese.

The figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show university language departments were able to boost overall numbers by recruiting additional international students. However, these students do not compete for the same places as Scottish students.