Chartered Institute
of Linguists

CIOL CSR Proposal for a UK Professional Language Qualifications (UK PLQ) Framework Comprehensive Spending Review 2020 representation: September 2020 

CIOL CSR Proposal for a UK Professional Language Qualifications (UK PLQ) Framework Comprehensive Spending Review 2020 representation: September 2020 


In response to government priorities set out in the Comprehensive Spending Review, The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) hereby, submits our CSR representation and proposal for the development of a UK Professional Language Qualifications Framework (UK PLQ) to support the UK’s recovery from Covid-19, support international trade and economic growth and promote the UK’s security from cyberthreats and terrorism.

This cross-cutting initiative will support Government departments, including GCHQ, the Cabinet Office, the new FCDO and Department for Education in managing and delivering on their immediate and longer-term commitments over the next three years.

Investment case

Investment in the future means investment in people and skills 

There is widespread consensus that ‘global Britain’ requires a global mind-set and a wide range of language skills and intercultural agility to strengthen the UK’s position in the world and accelerate the UK’s economic recovery (Born Global, 2016). It is also clear that our national language capability is weak at best, and requires fresh energy to revitalise language skills and raise awareness of the value-added advantage across sectors of additional languages to English (Towards a National Languages Strategy, British Academy et al, 2020). Covid 19 provides both the impetus and need to re-skill and provide new positive routes to skilled employment for a significant and growing proportion of the UK workforce.

Supporting business to be export ready

Research evidence shows that businesses that have an active language management strategy can improve their annual economic performance by up to 40%. (Born Global, 2016). A review of evidence commissioned by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI, 2014) demonstrated the impact of language skill deficiencies on UK trade performance. UK companies who lack language skills have a decreased propensity to trade. The study found two critical factors relating to languages: being able to communicate in the same language as potential trade partners makes a firm more likely to export; language skills make companies more aware of cultural barriers and better equipped to deal with them. In addition, the UK will become a more attractive partner for non-UK based firms, organisations, educational establishments etc seeking to expand their own businesses in the UK.

Valuing and supporting defence, diplomacy, security and public services

Languages are vital to the UK in securing our borders, protecting our citizens from cyberthreats, terrorism and related security challenges and for defence both at home and overseas. Ensuring equal access to justice, health and local government services for citizens who are speakers of other languages relies on a consistent supply and reliable pipeline of qualified language professionals - interpreters and translators - upon whom our courts, NHS, diplomacy and government depend for effective delivery of their own services (Lost for Words, 2013).

What is the problem?

National figures show the declining uptake of languages in school settings post-14 and post 16 (British Council, Language Trends 2020), but there is a far healthier appetite for languages among students of other disciplines in higher education (AULC/UCML 2019), which indicates that as young people mature and consider employment options, they begin to recognise the value-adding dimension of language skills to their employability. There is no common, reliable professionally understood framework for measuring the outcomes of university undergraduates of other disciplines studying languages in institution-wide language provision.

It is time-critical that we develop a reliable, evidence-based, high quality UK Professional Language Qualifications Framework (UK PLQ) that can be used across the life span to accredit professional and applied language skills in general and specific contexts.

Target outcomes

The UK PLQ that we propose will be relevant to a wide range of contexts, including civil servants and diplomats, particularly those fulfilling designated speaker roles, professional linguists (interpreters, translators and transcribers working in the private and public sectors) and can also be used to provide ‘just in time’ diagnostic tests for language skills available to UK business sectors to evaluate and/or accredit the language skills of the current workforce or of new recruits.

The impact will be a sustained increase in qualified professional linguists and in accredited language skills across all sectors, resulting in the significant benefit to HMG, UK plc and wider civil society of improved capacity in language skills and intercultural competence among the workforce. This investment in vital skills will help underpin the successful economic recovery of the UK and will strengthen its global standing, as we chart our new course post Brexit.

About us

The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) is the UK’s Royal Chartered body for languages. With a global reach and over 100 years of history, we are the national lead for standards in and accreditation of language skills in vocational and professional settings. With close and complementary links to education and academic qualifications, we provide for applied language skills to be tested and certified from beginner to native speaker levels in a broad range of settings and are inclusive of a wide ability range and different business and sectoral contexts.

We directly support the languages needs of government (FCO, GCHQ, MOD), public services (Courts, Police, NHS) and national language service contracts (MoJ, CCS, National Police Languages Framework). We are also responsive to the language requirements of business and to wider public interest in language learning. CIOL sets its standards and qualifications both against its own Charter and its regulator Ofqual.


Our submission follows active engagement with GCHQ and others, relating to the need for a joined-up approach across government departments towards language skills, and agreement on the urgent need to provide a high-quality structure to optimise and extend language capability.

We acknowledge and accept that the challenges of the pandemic have inevitably delayed progress on the envisaged National Language Project, led by GCHQ. We offer this submission as the first positive step towards achieving the intended outcomes of the delayed project and, if successful in gaining funding support through the CSR, the UK PLQ can provide the early foundation for the more ambitious national programme that will be needed to enable the UK to achieve its full global potential.

Our proposal

The UK PLQ framework has been conceived in response to an increasing demand from across Whitehall, from business and from the languages profession for a standardised structure against which a broad range of skills and linguistic specialisms (e.g. translation, interpreting, transcription, general communication) could be recognised. It will provide clarity on routes to qualification and continuing development and improvement of skills. It will also act as a reference and comparison point for other complementary assessments providing access and exit points for interface and transferability, fostering a perspective of equality between academic and vocational/professional purposes. 

The framework has the support and backing of CIOL’s governing bodies, Council and Trust Board, and initial work has already been completed on the concept as well as its structure, range and depth. Our ambition is to provide a UK model with potential for a wider, global dimension.

The PLQ framework will:

  • Comprise vertical themed strands covering general and specialised areas of professional language work (general communication, translation, interpreting, transcription);
  • Deliver at all levels from foundation to near-native competencies;
  • Allow assessment of one or any combination of language skills (Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing)
  • Provide core qualifications and optional assessments that can be delivered wholly or in part online (with training and examinations delivered through external course providers, training organisations, universities and others).

CIOL proposes to create Chartered Standards and the framework, working with stakeholders, end-users, course providers and businesses to develop a nationally recognised system of language assessments which is sustainable and works for the benefit of business, the public sector and the general public. Most importantly, it will serve to support UK growth and prosperity as the UK transitions to a post-Brexit world, while striving to strengthen its economic recovery post COVID-19.

Funding is required to provide for framework creation, content development, establishment of delivery networks and the setting up of quality assurance structures. We understand that in 2002 a similar programme to create the UK’s ‘Languages Ladder’ was backed with £5m of funding. A commitment for a minimum of 3-5 years would assure a systematic and sustainable approach to development with tranches of funding released for specified projects, dependent on successful fulfilment for control.


The UK needs more linguists to enhance and enable international trade, UK security and domestic prosperity. Covid-19 also presents a retraining and re-skilling opportunity; a modest investment in creating and promoting a clear framework for language competence will give individuals and employers greater confidence to seize the opportunities for the UK’s recovery and growth.

CIOL, 24/9/2020 – also submitted via HMT CSR Representations portal