The Drive towards English as a Medium of Instruction in non-English-Dominant European Universities: A Call for Reframing Language Policy and Planning

Hultgren, Anna Kristina (2018). The Drive towards English as a Medium of Instruction in non-English-Dominant European Universities: A Call for Reframing Language Policy and Planning. In: BAAL SIG Language Policy Forum, 31 May - 1 Jun 2018, Sheffield Hallam University.

Abstract

Despite speculation that English as an international language might be in retreat because of recent surges of nationalism, associated with Trump and Brexit, in major English-speaking countries (Altbach and de Wit 2017; Modiano 2017), so far, the global spread of English shows little sign of abating. Flying in the face of the EU’s policy to respect ‘linguistic diversity’, the number of university degree programmes taught in English in non-English-dominant Europe has risen by more than 1,000% in the past decade, replacing or partially replacing the official language, e.g. German in Germany or French in France (Hultgren et al. 2015; Wächter and Maiworm 2014; Brenn-White and van Rest 2012). The shift to English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) has prompted concerns over the educational, linguistic and cultural consequences of learning and teaching in a language that is not the first for the majority of speakers. Despite the furore, Language Policy and Planning (LPP), conceived both as a practice and as a scholarly field of inquiry, has failed to both explain and curb the drive towards EMI (Hultgren 2014). This paper calls for a radical reframing of LPP. In doing so, it echoes calls for greater engagement with factors in the political economy (Piller and Cho 2013; Ricento 2015; Block 2018). In the case of EMI, the reframing entails bringing past decades’ neoliberalist restructuring of higher education – and the obsession with competition, international benchmarking, performance-based funding structures and other metrics regimes – to the forefront of theory and analysis. It will be argued that it is only by engaging in conceptual, theoretical and methodological innovation that we can truly understand not only why EMI but also the global spread of English happens, and, if desired, have any hope of devising language policies that are effective enough to combat it.

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