English or perish?

English or perish?

English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) is a rapidly growing phenomenon and one that most non-English speaking institutions are facing at the current moment. Higher education institutions (HEIs) worldwide are in a state of transition, whereby language landscapes are changing and the stakes are high. But how are HEIs coping with this phenomenon, and are they managing it responsibly?

EMI: no end in sight

There is a worldwide shift towards using English as a Medium of Instruction for academic subjects, across disciplines, in the form of individual courses, modules, short programs for exchange purposes and full programs at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. In Europe, full programmes taught in English have soared from just over 700 programmes in 2011 to more than 8000 in 2014[1].

Important role for stakeholders

The reasons that HEIs adopt EMI are multiple: from improving the quality of education to revenue generation; from institutional brain gain to attracting a highly skilled workforce to boost the national economy; and from a governmental push to institutional branding. The majority (81%) of HEIs say that they are developing programmes in English as part of their activities to support internationalisation[2].

Whatever the logic behind EMI, it will affect who should be involved in its implementation. HEIs must be careful to consider all relevant stakeholders in the process if the quality of teaching and the intended learning outcomes are to be maintained. To act responsibly, HEIs must consider the impact of EMI on governance and strategy, on programme management, on professional integration, and on participatory learning in digitised learning environments[3].

IntlUni project

The findings of the recent IntlUni project focus on the opportunities and challenges posed by the multilingual and multicultural learning space in the international university: Is there language support for those teaching in English? How is it available and made attractive? Are support and administrative staff also looked after, or are they left to their own devices? Students must also be coached in EMI since most of them are not native speakers of English. And what is the role of English in academia when used as a Lingua Franca and not as the first language of those involved? In this respect, the IntlUni project provides useful recommendations in adopting a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach to teaching and learning. IntlUni encourages institutions to consider developing a language policy, which would not only cover EMI but also the use of local language(s) and the wider language landscape within which the university operates. Finally, teaching in English should not only be the responsibility of individual and enthusiastic teachers but the responsibility of the whole institution – an institutional approach is therefore needed, involving all the necessary stakeholders.

Want to learn more?

At the EAIE Autumn Academy taking place in Bilbao, Spain, we will be teaching a hands-on course that will prepare you for developing a strategic approach to English adoption at your institution. Be sure to register by 3 October to save on the fee.

Esko Koponen is International Education Adviser at the University of Helsinki, Finland and Jennifer Valcke is Senior lecturer at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.

[1] Wächter B. & F. Maiworm (2014). English-Taught Programmes in European Higher Education. The State of Play in 2014.  ACA Papers on International Cooperation in Education. Bonn: Lemmens Medien GmBH. http://www.aca-secretariat.be/index.php?id=792

[2] Sursock, A. (2015). Trends 2015: Teaching and Learning in European Uniervsities. Brussels: European University Association, http://www.eua.be/Libraries/publications-homepage-list/EUA_Trends_2015_web (p. 32, figure 5)

[3] Marsh, D., V. Pavon Vázquez & M. Frigols Martin (2013). The Higher Education Languages Landscape: Ensuring Quality in English Language Degree Programmes. Design and Multimedia Contents Department. Valencia: Valencian International University, http://www.viu.es/download/universidad/publicaciones/ensuring-quality-english-degrees.pdf.

[4] Task Force RUG Language Policy (2014). RUG Language Policy. An Inclusive, Dual-Plus Approach. Preparing world class graduates and fostering our staff in a globalising world. Groningen: University of Groningen.

Esko Koponen
University of Helsinki, FinlandEsko Koponen is International Education Expert in the Strategic Services for Teaching of the University of Helsinki.

Jennifer Valcke
Karolinska Institutet, SwedenJennifer is Educational Developer and Senior Lecturer for the Unit for Medical Education (UME) at Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden.