Englishisation of Higher Education

Last month, the British Council published an interim report entitled “English as a medium of instruction – a growing global phenomenon.” In cooperation with the British Council, Oxford University Department of Education is conducting research on the English-medium instruction (EMI) across the word. Needless to say, EMI is on the increase mainly driven by the economic reasons to compete with the Anglophone institutions. In relation to that report, the Times Higher Education regarded EMI as the “most significant internationalisation trend for higher education.”

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I am very disappointed with the claim that English is the most important trend in the internationalization of HE. Internationalisation of HE may also mean multilingualism, multiculturalism, global social responsibility, intercultural communication and understanding, but English is found to steer the internationalization of HE. In her latest book, Jennifer Jenkins, professor of the Global Englishes, also found that English is equated with the internationalization of HE. In her study, Turkish universities that offer English-medium instruction also provide evidence for that.

For seven years, I had English-medium instruction at Turkish public universities that had ties to the North American higher education system. I cannot deny the various benefits of EMI (please see Selvi (2014) for the extensive review of the EMI debate in Turkey). However, there can be a lot to lose at the expense of EMI which is a highly complex issue that can directly affect the quality of education, critical inquiry, (in)equality, language, culture and identity, but I will focus on just the language use in this post. I believe that EMI negatively influenced my first language skills. For instance, when I attended the 27th National Linguistics Conference at which all the talks were in Turkish last year, I felt as if the speakers had given their presentations in another language! I learned all the linguistic terms in English, and many of them are still unknown to me in Turkish. 

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Another important consideration is the way that English is promoted at the universities. English language policy mostly sticks to native-English norms instead of English as a Lingua Franca or Global English. In terms of the expectations about students’ English, one of the Turkish academics, who works at an English-medium institution, says:

I expect their English to fully conform to native academic English. I expect [them] to have mastered the language and be able to perform at the level of a native speaker.” (Jenkins, 2013, p.133)

Though this response cannot reflect other Turkish academics that work at English-medium universities, it was very striking for me in that a non-native English speaking academic could expect his/her students to “perform at the level of a native speaker.” Apparently, there is no tolerance for other varieties of English, let alone questioning the role of English as the medium of instruction at the university. In this sense, English is more likely to be associated with Anglicisation of higher education rather than internationalisation. Actually, non-Anglophone institutions might have an advantage over Anglophone institutions by offering Global English or English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) in this globalised world where approximately only 20% of all the English speakers are native. Non-Anglophone institutions seem to lose this opportunity and try to replicate Anglo-American norms in non-English speaking countries.

The increase in English-medium instruction appears to be inevitable across the world. It is important that this policy also includes promoting different varieties of English. This should occur not just because universities aim to attract more students, but also they value and accept diversity. I hope that English language policies in non-Anglophone institutions will also embrace multilingualism and cultural diversity, together with ELF in order to become truly international…

Reference

Jenkins, J. (2013). English as a lingua franca in the international university: The politics of academic English language policy. London: Routledge.