Despite being among the most in-demand skills for job applicants to possess, the number of people applying to study for non-European language degrees has fallen.

Research compiled by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reveals the number of 18-year-olds applying to take these courses at institutes of higher education has fallen by more than one-third (36.6 per cent) in just three years. While the application rate for non-European language degrees was low, the number of people applying to study European languages and literature was not much higher. Indeed, this application rate has also declined over the last three years, this time by 16.9 per cent.

Times Higher Education reports that the figures reflect concerns that graduates in the UK are not getting the qualifications necessary to “deal with” Asia’s swiftly growing economies. Similarly, they are not equipping themselves with the skills to compete effectively with their counterparts in this continent.

The European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) has already revealed that English students are falling behind pupils elsewhere in Europe when it comes to foreign language proficiency. Looking at the two most-commonly taught languages among British schools – German and French – the research revealed that among 14 to 16-year-olds, UK kids were not as adept at speaking in a foreign language as those on the continent. This is thought to be because studying languages at this age is not compulsory in the UK, as it is in many other countries.

Meanwhile, the British Academy’s review Languages: the State of the Nation revealed that in 2011, 27 per cent of clerical and administrative vacancies stayed unfilled because of the shortage of language skills among applicants. In addition, the report warned that the UK is at risk of experiencing market failure, in part because of this skills gap.

As a result, the British Council launched the Generation UK campaign in June in an effort to encourage more British students to go to university in China or obtain work experience opportunities there. For the academic year 2013-14, the British Council China offered 15 scholarships to outstanding students wishing to study in mainland China.

Elsewhere, the British Academy, in collaboration with the European Commission, has launched Talk the Talk; a guide to how people can maximise their employment prospects by learning and using a language. “Students who learn languages gain a plethora of other practical and personal skills, boosting their employability and career prospects,” the Academy explains. It is hoped the guide will encourage both school pupils and those entering higher education to recognise the value of learning languages.

To highlight just how valuable these skills are, famous faces who speak a second language as part of their career have been asked to contribute, including Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, long distance yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur and former Apprentice contestant Nick Holzherr. As the guide notes, there are a plethora of opportunities awaiting those who have language skills.

Of course, there are careers such as translation and interpreting. However, being able to speak another language can benefit people whatever their line of work. It can allow them to form relationships with customers overseas, open up export opportunities, and provide them with a greater understanding of different cultures, societies and nationalities. By realising this, there may be a chance demand for language qualifications not only stops falling but starts to rise.