Scotland’s first BSL interpretation degree

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is providing funding to Heriot-Watt University to deliver the first British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreting undergraduate degree course in Scotland, to help meet the Scottish Government’s ambition for BSL to be aligned with other modern languages in Scotland.

There is currently no undergraduate BSL degree available at a Scottish university and until now anyone in Scotland interested in studying BSL full time and to degree level has had to travelto England for their study. Heriot-Watt is recognised internationally for its interpreting and translation courses, and BSL will become part of its modern language portfolio. The SFC funding of £744,192 over six years will build on Scottish Government investment of £1.5 million, which has enabled the university to develop additional BSL resources and training.

This programme will be the first undergraduate course in the UK in which graduates will be fully qualified and accredited BSL/English interpreters upon completion and will provide graduates with real opportunities for employment due to a shortage of interpreters, with currently around one per 200 BSL users. This has a major impact on the way in which Scotland’s Deaf community is able to access public services, education, training and employment.

Mark Batho, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “This is the first course of its kind not only in Scotland, but the UK, and will create highly employable graduates with in-demand skills. I am also delighted that the graduates of this course will have a potentially great positive impact on access to services for Deaf people, including access to employment and training. We are pleased to support the Scottish Government’s ambition for BSL to become a modern language in Scotland.”

Professor Graham Turner, Chair of Interpreting and Translation Studies at Heriot-Watt University, said: “This is the culmination of many years’ work by Deaf people and their allies to secure a vital skills boost in the sign language field. Access to sign language interpreters can change the lives of Deaf people, from deaf children hungry to learn at school, to employees whose contribution to the economic life of the country can be greatly enhanced, to elderly people needing reliable access to healthcare services. In 2003, Jack McConnell, as First Minister, set the target of doubling the number of sign language interpreters: he didn’t achieve it, but now we can aim to match and better that target – and make Scotland a fairer place in the process.”