Letter: Risky Russian

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The Independent Online
Russia's bad and/or boring image is effectively confronted by a number of university teachers ("Russian: a terrifying subject", 24 August). So why is there a crisis?

As former head of a department which now offers Russian only as a non- specialist option, I can think of two explanations. First, the introduction of market criteria into education, which discourages institutions from supporting "risky" non-trad- itional subjects. Second, the growth of the "modular" system (under which units of study are examined semester by semester) which, though it has merits in some areas, is peculiarly inappropriate to progressive foreign language study and may deter all but the bravest from risking study of a hard new language from scratch without adequate time for consolidation.

Professor Briggs might have added to his list of stimuli to the study of Russian Harold Macmillan's visit to Moscow in 1959 to sign the first Anglo-Soviet cultural agreement providing for systematic exchanges of students and teachers. Perhaps Tony Blair might be persuaded to follow in his footsteps.

Marcus Wheeler