Study finds more universities around the world offering courses taught in English

by Ray Clancy on May 1, 2014

Students in non-English speaking countries are increasingly learning subjects like maths and science in English instead of their mother tongue, according to the findings of a new study.

Teaching in English is a ‘galloping phenomenon’ across the world and is causing controversy in some countries, with English being called the ‘new Latin’ because it is seen as a passport to global academic and business communities.


Teaching in English is a ‘galloping phenomenon’ across the world and is causing controversy in some countries

Opinion is divided on whether this is a positive development. Some countries are opposed, with others embracing the opportunity, according to an interim report on new research by the British Council and University of Oxford’s Department of Education.

University administrators tend to regard “English as a Medium of Instruction” (EMI) as an opportunity to recruit high fee-paying international students and to rise up in global rankings. Lecturers are more idealistic, saying it could improve the exchange of ideas and promote better relations between countries.

‘English was considered by teachers as the ‘new Latin’, a world language which could facilitate movement in academia and business,’ says the report on the findings of research into the use of EMI in 55 countries.

‘EMI was a personal challenge, a way to improve personally and professionally as teachers advance their careers. Not only students, but teachers too, can become international in an EMI context,’ it explains.

However, there was some concern about the impact on the home language and culture, with fears that it could foster inequality between those (usually richer) students who could speak English and those who could not. Some countries, such as Pakistan, had changed their education policies to ensure that students from poorer backgrounds could learn English.

The findings form the first part of a research project into the spread and impact of EMI. The second phase will look at clusters of countries in more detail and include an online global survey to canvass the views of teachers across the world.

“We see the move to using English as the lingua franca of higher education globally as the most significant current trend in internationalising higher education,” said Anna Searle, the British Council’s director of English language.

Professor Ernesto Macaro, Director of the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, said more and more institutions across the world are using English to teach academic subjects. This development is spurred on by a desire to internationalise their offer and their academic profile.

“This phenomenon has very important implications in non-Anglophone countries for teaching and learning as well as for language policy decisions,” he added.

Respondents in nearly two thirds of countries reported policy changes in the past 10 years regarding teaching in English, but only around 40% had official policies in place. For example, a presidential decree in Uzbekistan encourages English to be taught, spoken and used for business and government ministry communication.

However, Israel, Senegal and Venezuela were said to be refusing that EMI be included in public education. Additionally, a higher education institution in Italy had fought and won a battle against the adoption of teaching in English.

Respondents, including university professors, administrators and public policy makers, had mixed views on its impact. Just over half, 50.9%, said EMI was controversial, but 38% were in favour and none said they were against it.

Respondents in 83% of countries said they did not have enough qualified teachers, and just 1.8% said they had sufficient numbers of qualified teachers.

Looking ahead, nearly 70% said they expected to see a growth in EMI, while just 7.3% thought it would decline, and 1.8% said it would stay the same.

Further research is needed into the level of English competence required to provide quality instruction, and into whether or not the learning of academic subjects is improved, the report concludes.

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