Undergraduate languages in the United Kingdom

I write, from time to time, on language related matters and one of the items on my list of backburner projects was to have a look at undergraduate language options in the United Kingdom. I had a look at Ireland as well but since we have 7 universities, there isn’t very much of interest to consider when it comes to language provision in Ireland. UCC is about your best option there. I’ll post the graph of that later.

The United Kingdom is interesting for a couple of reasons: firstly, tuition provision in languages has been falling off a cliff there and language departments have been closing near hand over fist. One of my recollections relating to language tuition provision in the university sector was that there was a great breadth of provision in terms of languages offered when I was looking for somewhere to study back in 1990, and given changes to language related matters in the UK in the interim, I was interested to see how things looked. Data, however, is not that easily come by and in the end I would up collecting it manually.

One of the things I wanted to do was see what the obvious clusters were and it occurred to me that using languages and higher education organisations as nodes might allow a network chart to be built. I actually did a proof of concept of that with the Irish provisions purely because there were neither too many languages nor too many universities (seven of the latter and not far off seven for the former). The network depicting software which I used was Gephi.

According to the basic research which I did, 78 higher education organisations are offering primary degrees of which a language is a major component. I suspect, if I were to look more closely and root out things like “International Business With A Language” type degrees, the number of pure language related courses would be significantly lower. I have not decided how best to sort out data to get that information and I may not do it just yet.

Eventually, when I plotted things, there was an interesting imbalance on the graph. I noted this on the graph itself for which you can find here, but it is obvious enough below too.

UnitedKingdomWhat this tells you is that if you want to learn anything other than, effectively, French, Spanish, English, Italian, German, Russian or Chinese, most of your options are limited to two universities in London or one in Edinburgh. The overwhelming number of universities which offer any language study at all draw primarily from the seven listed above. There are a few stragglers around but that’s more or less the way things are.

One of the things I would consider doing with this data at some stage is comparing language provision in the United Kingdom with language provision in the university sector in a bunch of other European countries, and also, looking at comparing provision of official European languages within the university sector across Europe. I really have no idea how I could quickly get this data together – I do not know if it’s even available anywhere. But it would be interesting to see where the holes exist in terms of provision of tuition at university level of official European languages.

Code Reviews

This piece on code reviews landed in my email via an O’Reilly newsletter this morning.

I’ve posted a brief response to it but I wanted to discuss it a little further here. One of the core issues with some code reviews is that they focus on optics rather than depth. How does this code look?

There are some valid reasons for having cosmetic requirements in place. Variable names should be meaningful, but in this day and age, that doesn’t mean they also have to be limited to an arbitrary number of characters. If someone wants to be a twerp about it, they will find a way of being a twerp about it no matter what rules you put in place.

However, the core reason for code reviews should be in terms of understanding what a particular bit of code is doing and whether it does it in the safest way possible. If you’re hung up on the number of tab spaces, then perhaps, you’re going to miss aspects of this. If you wind up with code that looks wonderful on the outside but is a 20 carat mess on the inside, well…your code review isn’t understanding what code is doing and it’s not identifying whether it is safe or possible.

So what I would tend to recommend, where bureaucratically possible, is that before any code reviewing is done, coding standards are reviewed in terms of whether they are fit for purpose. Often, they are not.

It won’t matter how you review code if the framework for catching issues just isn’t there.


One of those simmering arguments in the background has been blowing up spectacularly lately. The advertising industry, and to a lesser extent, the media industry, is up in arms about ad-blocking software. They do not like it and to some extent, you can probably understand this. It does not, exactly, support their industry.

There are two approaches which I think need to be considered. The advertising industry and the media industry, instead of bleating about how stuff has to be paid for, need to consider how they have contributed to this mess. On mobile, in particular, advertising is utterly destroying the user experience. When I wind up with content that I want to read because I can’t access because there is a roll over ad blocking it, for which I cannot find a close button, then the net impact is not that I feel a warm fuzzy feeling about the advertiser and the media site in question. The net impact is that I spend less and less time on the media site in question.

So, instead of screaming about how stuff has to paid for with advertising, maybe the media companies need to recognise how advertising is wrecking their user experience and how, ultimately, that is going to cut their user numbers. The fewer eyes they have, the less their advertising is going to be worth. I have sympathy for their need to pay their bills but at some point, they need some nuance in understanding how the product they are using to pay their bills now will likely result in them being unable to pay their bills at some point in the future.

As for the advertising industry, I have less sympathy. They appear to think they have a god given right to serve me content which I never asked for, don’t really want and which might cost me money to get particularly on mobile data. Often, the ads don’t load properly and block the background media page from loading. They have made their product so completely awful as a user experience that people are working harder than ever before to avoid it. Instead of screaming about how adblockers are killing their business, it would be more in their line to recognise that they have killed their business by making it a user experience which is so awful, their audience are making every effort to avoid it.

The ability to advertise is a privilege, not a right. It would help if advertisers worked towards maximising user engagement on a voluntary basis because by forcing content in the way which is increasingly the normal – full screen blocking ads – on users they are damaging the brands and the underlying media channels. Maybe advertisers don’t care. Maybe they assume that even if every newspaper in the world closes down, they will still find some sort of a channel to push ads on.

Adblocking software should be reminding them that actually, they probably won’t.