Society 06/10/2021

B2 in English will no longer be a requirement for a university degree

Catalan Government backtracks and leaves it up to Universities to decide how to prove knowledge of a foreign language

3 min
A group of university students in a faculty.

A news item on the ARA website in 2013 advanced: "University graduates will have to prove knowledge of a third language to graduate". The then Catalan Minister of Economy and Knowledge, Andreu Mas-Colell, proposed it so that ''once and for all'' students with a degree would have guaranteed skills in English. A year later, it was specified that ''without a First Certificate level there will be no university degree''. To promote English among students, the Government ruled that year that all graduates from 2018 onwards would have to prove a B2 level in a third language if they wanted the degree. But when this deadline was about to run out, and despite the fact that aid was handed out under the Parla3 programme, universities found that a large percentage of students did not have the required English skills and would not be able to graduate, so they lobbied and ended up getting a 4-year moratorium to apply this requirement. Now, eight years after the announcement and again against the clock, the Government has finally announced that B2 level will not be a requirement for a university degree.

In fact, the formula used by the Government to announce it is that it "makes the accreditation criteria more flexible" for a B2 level. According to the Department for Research and Universities, at universities' behest, this Tuesday the modification of Article 211 of the 2014 law was approved to delete specific references to the B2 level and from now on, it will simply require students to prove "sufficient knowledge and skills" in a foreign language. In other words, each university will be able to decide how its students will have to prove an adequate level of English, French, German or Italian.

It remains to be seen whether universities will agree on a common minimum and agree on basic guidelines to work on. But this is perhaps not so easy, because over the years each university has had different positions on the subject. In general, they have slightly increased the number of subjects taught in English, but the commitment has been unequal. The Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona questioned the B2 requirement from the outset, because it claimed that it was in each syllabus that the level of demand for a third language had to be set. On the other hand, other universities such as the Politècnica, the University of Girona and the University of Lleida began to prepare the ground with alternative measures until definitive approval was obtained.

The B2 level in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, is equivalent to Cambridge University's First Certificate exam and proves basic fluency and accuracy in the language, but far from specialised, oral and written communication. The B2 is the fourth level out of the six levels in this framework, one of the most commonly used in the world to prove language levels.

Proof by doing a dissertation or a subject in English

With Tuesday's decision, universities are complying with an agreement last March, when the previous Catalan government was still in office. At that time, the Consell Interuniversitari de Catalunya (the body that brings together the Catalan government and the 12 Catalan universities) asked for the criteria for proof of B2 level to be made more flexible in order to "adapt them to the needs and specificities of each university". Universities asked for the law to be "more flexible, broader and adaptable to the possibilities" of each centre and gave some clues as to how to do this: having passed at least 9 credits of subjects taught entirely in the foreign language, having written and defended their dissertation in this language or having spent time at a university or company abroad. According to the universities at the time, this would allow students "to have more options to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in third languages" and also to consider making some exceptions for students with "significant difficulties in acquiring language skills".

Be that as it may, what is clear is that in 2014 it was approved that in 2018 all graduates in Catalonia would have to prove a B2 level in English, French, German or Italian before graduating, and that seven years later this requirement has not been applied and will not be applied, at least not imminently. In the CIC agreement, the universities also look to the Department of Education, and claim to implement "in a coordinated manner" with the Department for Universities the "necessary measures" so that the students start universities with greater "knowledge and skill" in English.

The data on the level of English in Catalonia and Spain are devastating: in a recent study, the company specialised in linguistic training Education First concluded that Spain has the same level of English as ten years ago and that it continues at the tail of Europe, with a level similar to that of Italy, Belarus or Albania. Despite the fact that Catalans' level of English is slightly above the Spanish average, it is still a long way from European standards. This gap is especially worrying in a context in which youth unemployment is skyrocketing and, at the same time, there are studies that indicate that a third of job offers require a good level of English