English-medium Instruction at Universities: Global Challenges

English-medium Instruction at Universities: Global Challenges


$37.46 $39.95 Save 6% Current price is $37.46, Original price is $39.95. You Save 6%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Want it by Monday, November 19 Order now and choose Expedited Shipping during checkout.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847698148
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 10/15/2012
Series: Multilingual Matters Series , #149
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra are associate professors at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU, Spain. Their research interests include, among others, internationalisation in higher education, second/third language acquisition, CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), language teaching methodology, attitudes and motivation, and multilingualism at pre-university and university levels. They have published widely in international journals, books and edited books.

Read an Excerpt

English-Medium Instruction at Universities

Global Challenges

By Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster, Juan Manuel Sierra

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2013 Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster, Juan Manuel Sierra and the authors of individual chapters
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84769-815-5


English-Medium Instruction at a Dutch University: Challenges and Pitfalls

Robert Wilkinson


English-medium instruction (EMI) has become commonplace in many institutes of higher education in countries where English is not the native language. This is a contemporary feature of the higher education space in Europe and elsewhere. Almost every institute seems compelled to offer programmes through English, whether at postgraduate level (Master's) or at undergraduate level (Bachelor's). The expansion of EMI has been driven by economic, social and political forces, and sometimes even educational. The advent of ranking organisations has accelerated the trend, by establishing criteria against which institutions can be compared. Consistently in such rankings, universities from the United States and Britain fill the top places. Between institutions, the rankings have generated an atmosphere of competitiveness between institutions, which may have been only negligible in the past. Senior administrators pay great attention to the rankings, whatever the basis for the criteria, and note with pleasure or anxiety the relative ranks of their own institute and those with which they most wish to compare, i.e. their assumed competitors. The administrators wish to see their institution attain and maintain a relatively high place in the rankings. To do so, they seem subject to an unconscionable desire to emulate the top-ranking universities by doing what those universities do well, and doing it better if at all possible, and this seems to entail doing it in English. Academic research is an important part of the rankings, and thus it needs to be read and rated in the best possible journals for the widest international readership; hence research too has to be published primarily in English.

Students, together with the staff, are the fundamental core of a university. Without students there is no university. Universities want the best students. Sourcing excellent students, however, can no longer be limited to the first language (L1) area: in many cases there are simply not enough excellent domestic students to meet the wishes of the national universities. The institutions are therefore striving to attract such students from other countries, and in many cases that will mean enticing students through EMI programmes. However, it may be questioned whether this trend towards increasing EMI is good, and if so, who actually benefits.

On the other hand, it is worth considering whether there are 'losers', and if so, what they are losing. In one perspective, higher education may be seen as fixed: there is a fixed number of institutions and fixed number of students. Thus what one institution gains, another loses. However, this treats education as a zero-sum game, in which for every winner, there is a loser. Yet, the size of education can itself get bigger. It is non-zero-sum in that there can be more 'winners' than 'losers'.

This chapter then looks at the challenges EMI poses and what advantages or disadvantages it conveys. The example of one Dutch university, Maastricht, is used by way of illustration. The paper is organised as follows. Section 2 sketches the origins of EMI at Maastricht University. It is a story that unfolded gradually over nearly two decades, and I was a key player in the events. Section 3 looks more broadly at the reasons for introducing EMI, with specific focus on European institutions. Section 4 examines selected consequences of EMI for the society, the students and the institution. Section 5 concludes with reflections on the implications for the future student, the future of higher educational institutions, and cultures and languages other than English (see also Li in this volume).

The Early Story of the English-Medium Instruction at Maastricht University

In the mid-1980s a small Dutch university decided to open a first-degree programme in International Management. After an initial phase in Dutch, the programme would be taught mainly in English with special components delivered in French and German. The four-year programme led to a 'doctorandus' degree in economics, the equivalent of today's master's degree. The initial intake of students was small, yet almost doubled every year so that by the third year over a hundred students were following the programme at Maastricht University.

Prior to the start of the programme, concern was expressed about the ability of Dutch students to follow programmes in English, in particular whether students with high-school English would be adequately equipped. It was decided to test all potential applicants to the programme. This was possible as it did not concern entry to the university but to a specific 'track' within the economics curriculum. Under Dutch law entry tests other than the school-leaving diploma were not permitted. Thus, during the initial Dutch phase almost all students interested in following the International Management 'track' in English took a voluntary screening test in English. Students with low scores were advised not to join the track. Psychometric analysis of the test showed good discrimination for the total score and the writing score, but not so for the scores on the other sub-components (reading comprehension, syntax, punctuation) (Foster & Wilkinson, 1991). The students joining the programme seemed to be those with a better ability in English. Moreover, there had been few reports of students having difficulty coping with the programme because of language.

However, the same could not be said of the French and German components. Students were also tested in these languages, but less rigorously. Yet observations, supported by student feedback, showed that the students felt seriously limited in their ability to participate at a sufficiently high academic level in French and German. Secondary-school French and German were inadequate. Moreover, some of the courses were delivered in Liège (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany), where quite a different instructional approach to learning was applied. Additional cultural barriers were encountered. Non-Dutch students transferred to the programme after the initial Dutch phase. Students with French or German as their L1 could speak English, but not the other language, and thus they were exempted from courses in that language. This meant a degree of inequity in how different students were treated. Since major investment in language training was not acceptable, the upshot was that the French and German economics components ceased, although some language training in these languages continued.

Besides the screening test, which had initially helped to ensure the entry of linguistically competent students to the International Management track in economics, other means were employed to ensure the quality of the English in the programme in the first years. Alongside the content courses there were English skills training courses, which focused principally on the productive skills of writing and presentations. However, some of the skills courses were content and language integrated courses, notably in statistics and accounting. In these courses team teaching was the norm, with the statistics or accounting teacher discussing each meeting with the English teacher beforehand and afterwards to ensure agreement on purpose, accomplishments, learning tasks, and classroom management (see also Ball & Lindsay, this volume). In addition, every week for the first two years content tutorials were monitored by an English teacher, who would observe two or three tutorials every week and give feedback and advice to the students in the last quarter of an hour, occasionally intervening at other times too. Feedback to the content teacher was usually provided privately afterwards. Furthermore, many of the content staff made use of the opportunity to seek the advice of an English teacher on their materials and intended tasks in advance. To some extent this enabled the written instructional language to be more closely tailored to the linguistic abilities of the students, as well as facilitating the redesign of some tasks so that language development also formed part of the goals. The leader of the English team was also a member of the Faculty programme committee. The close involvement of the English staff in all aspects of the programme gave the English team an insightful overview of the first two years of the programme, identifying whether there was an observable development in language skills in addition to the measured development in content. It also enabled the English team to see which parts of the programme meshed well and which did not, as well as to observe whether some components were linguistically more challenging than others, and whether there was a mismatch linguistically in the order of the components. These inputs allowed the programme to be continually tweaked to ensure as optimal a delivery as the circumstances allowed. It is not claimed that the English team's input was the only factor of influence on the programme's design and success, but it was a contributory factor.

By the early 1990s, at a time of great enthusiasm about the idea of Europe (e.g. the Maastricht Treaty of 1992), student numbers in International Management had risen to over 200 in the initial year. The first graduates too had been eagerly offered jobs. European and international trends fuelled the demand for Europe-centred English-taught economics and business graduates. This impelled Maastricht University to start with International Economic Studies in both a Dutch and an English version, and International Business, which would be taught only in English from the very start.

The number of students enrolling in these EMI programmes may have surprised the administrators. Since additional testing at entry was not permitted, it was decided not to continue with the screening test. The thinking may have been that weaker students would drop out anyway, whether due to language or content: that was a traditional purpose of the academic first year. Administrators would have deemed the advent of English-medium programmes a success in view of the large enrolment and the numbers of non-Dutch students registering.

The success at Maastricht did not go unnoticed as universities elsewhere in the Netherlands also began to introduce EMI programmes in business and economics, notably Groningen, Rotterdam (Erasmus), Nijmegen and Tilburg. Moreover, the success in business and economics also prompted other disciplines in Maastricht to introduce English-taught components in their programmes, notably in Arts and Culture and in Psychology, but also in the European Law School at the Law Faculty. Medicine and Health Sciences were not immune as both brought in some components in English during the 1990s, mainly with an eye to facilitating exchanges.

The growth of EMI at Maastricht continued apace with a decision made by what is today the School of Business and Economics to abandon offering programmes in Dutch: so many more students were already enrolling for the English variants or for the English-only programmes, that delivering courses and producing materials in two languages became an unnecessary cost burden. The rapid application (in 2002) of the Bologna Declaration to Dutch higher education meant many institutions had to rethink their curricula, and several, like Maastricht, opted to deliver more programmes in English, with an eye to student mobility and diploma portability. Maastricht's School of Business and Economics opted to reorganise their range of programmes, whereby the International Management programme was closed down along with various components subsumed in International Business or in International Business Economics. Programmes such as European Studies and European Public Health began.

This brief overview of the development of EMI at Maastricht University reveals an emphasis in the early stages to ensure the quality of the language both as a means of instruction and as a learning goal itself. The close involvement of language staff in the establishment of programmes demonstrates the realisation by the programme initiators from the start that poor language ability could jeopardise the whole programme. Later, as concerns about language declined, the English specialists began to occupy a role as support staff, mainly providing academic writing training. Their role in advising the content staff on both the practicalities of EMI teaching and materials design declined. The scope of the English specialists' role would seem to be inversely related to the recruitment of international content staff whose academic careers have mainly been conducted in English.

Reasons for Introducing EMI and its Development

Over the past quarter of a century there have been many differing reasons why an institution decides to offer EMI programmes. A large pan-European study by the Academic Cooperation Association (Wächter & Maiworm, 2008) summarises nine different reasons for the introduction of EMI programmes. Three reasons dominate: to attract international students who would not enrol in a programme in the domestic language; to make domestic students fit for the global or international market; and to sharpen the profile of the institution in comparison to others in the country. Research-oriented universities felt that it was important to introduce EMI to secure the research base by attracting future PhD students. Wächter and Maiworm (2008) reported that they were surprised that the altruistic motive to provide high-level education for students from the Third World plays such a strong role. Other motives play a smaller role: to attract foreign students to become part of the workforce of the country; to counterbalance the lack of enrolment of domestic students; to enable specialised courses to run despite insufficient numbers of domestic students; and to improve the income base of the institution. The questionnaire survey had asked respondents (institutional coordinators for the Erasmus programme and EMI programme directors) to rate each of the nine reasons. Wächter and Maiworm (2008) do not indicate whether the respondents could add other reasons. In their earlier study, Maiworm and Wächter (2002) reported similar motives, although they subsumed several reasons under the heading 'to attract foreign students'. One of these reasons listed was competitive survival: some universities may not be able to survive without recruiting foreign students. One motive reported in 2002, but not in 2008, was the development of new degree programmes. In contrast, the profiling motive was not mentioned in 2002.

In their Nordic study, Hellekjaer and Westergaard (2003) allowed respondents to add reasons. The responses differ somewhat from Wächter and Maiworm (2008), although the principal reason is the same: to recruit international students. Hellekjaer and Westergaard (2003) also found that assisting developing countries was an important reason, perhaps reflecting the longstanding Nordic contributions to development aid. Two closely related reasons concern the nature of the programme: EMI courses were established as part of international exchange programmes, and to promote intercultural exchange. Slightly different from Wächter and Maiworm (2008), Hellekjaer and Westergaard (2003) report that some programmes were established explicitly to recruit domestic students. Although a less frequent reason, this suggests that the demand was perceived as coming from the students, rather than being 'imposed' by the institution, as implied by Wächter and Maiworm (2008). The last reason reported by Hellekjaer and Westergaard (2003) is to promote language learning goals. This was the least frequent motive, but it is noteworthy that it appears at all. Language learning motives do not feature in Wächter and Maiworm (2008).

Wilkinson (2005a, 2008a) reported five different groups of motives for establishing EMI programmes: practical; survival; financial; idealist; and educational. The motives change over time according to the circumstances affecting the university. In the case of Maastricht University, the reasons advanced over the past 25 years can be categorised according to five phases of development (Table 1.1). The initial phase from 1987 can be seen as a cross-border period: at this time, the motives were practical – to profit from geographical location (on the political border with Belgium and Germany, and the linguistic borders of Dutch, French and German); idealist – to promote multilingualism (the initial programmes had components in English, French and German, and later even elements in Spanish and Italian); educational – to establish new educational programmes, thus explicitly avoiding an attempt to 'convert' an existing Dutch programme into an EMI one.


Excerpted from English-Medium Instruction at Universities by Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster, Juan Manuel Sierra. Copyright © 2013 Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster, Juan Manuel Sierra and the authors of individual chapters. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Jim Coleman: ForewordAintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra: IntroductionPart 1: The Development of English-medium Instruction1. Robert Wilkinson: English-medium Instruction at a Dutch University: Challenges and PitfallsPart 2: Language Demands of English-medium Instruction on the Stakeholders2. Christa van der Walt and Martin Kidd: Acknowledging Academic Biliteracy in Higher Education Assessment Strategies: A Tale of Two Trials3. Phillip Ball and Diana Lindsay: Language Demands and Support for English-medium Instruction in Tertiary Education. Learning from a Specific ContextPart 3: Fostering Trilingual Education at Higher Education Institutions4. David C.S. Li: Linguistic Hegemony or Linguistic Capital? Internationalization and English-medium Instruction at the Chinese University of Hong Kong5. Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra: English as L3 at a Bilingual University in the Basque Country, Spain6. Josep Maria Cots : Introducing English-medium Instruction at the University of Lleida (Spain): Intervention, Beliefs and PracticesPart 4: Institutional Policies at Higher Education Institutions7. Taina Saarinen and Tarja Nikula: Implicit Policy, Invisible Language: Policies and Practices of International Degree Programmes in Finnish Higher Education8. Ofra Inbar-Lourie and Smadar Donitsa-Schmidt: Englishization in an Israeli Teacher Education College: Taking the First Steps9. Ofelia Garcia, Mercé Pujol-Ferrán and Pooja Reddy: Educating International and Immigrant Students in US Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges10. Elana Shohamy: A Critical Perspective on the Use of English as a Medium of Instruction at UniversitiesPart 5: Final Considerations11. Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra: Future Challenges for English-medium Instruction at Tertiary Level

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews