Linguists and businesses have criticised the decision, which is apparently at odds with the Scottish government’s new strategy to try to reverse a decline in language learning.
In 2014, the number of pupils sitting Russian Higher rose to 52 from 36, which, though relatively low, represents a 44 per cent increase on the previous year and puts it at its highest level since 1992. In contrast, Classical Greek Higher was taken by only 14 candidates this year, but the subject has been protected for its cultural importance.
Garry Clark, head of policy and public affairs at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the move was a backwards step that would be harmful for trade and cultural links with Russia – Europe’s second biggest economy – as well as surrounding territories where the language is spoken widely, including Central Asia.
He said: “Our position has always been that the ability to speak any foreign language is very beneficial, particularly for young people willing to seek opportunities in all kinds of spheres, and for a nation that tries to be outward-looking.
“Notwithstanding the present situation in Ukraine, we are always being told about the huge and developing economic potential of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), so this is particularly disappointing,” Mr Clark added.
“This is part of a worrying trend that is affecting French and German too, and we would like to see the re-emphasis on foreign languages in terms of actual resources rather than just rhetoric.”
Jenny Carr, chairwoman of the Scotland-Russia Forum, urged the SQA and Scottish government to reconsider and save the subject at Higher.
However, she also blamed the Russian government for allowing its language and culture to become marginalised overseas. In Edinburgh, there are Spanish, Italian, French, German and Chinese institutes but no Russian equivalent.
Ms Carr said that more than 1,000 people had supported her campaign on social media to keep Russian Higher.
The forum also intends to promote Russian as an optional language for older primary children as part of the Scottish government’s “one plus two” strategy, i.e. English plus exposure to two extra languages.
“If primary pupils do Russian fairly minimally and for fun, I would hope demand could build up from there.”
The SQA said provision for Russian would continue through Modern Languages for Work Purposes Units at stages including SCQF Levels 6 and 7, “which are of a comparable standard to Higher”.
Russian is also available as part of the Languages for Life and Work Award (SCQF Levels 3 and 4).
Spanish Higher has increased in popularity but French, German and Italian have all declined markedly in recent years.