Skip to main content

CLER conversation: A new approach to understanding the rise of English as a Medium of Instruction in European higher education

research talks
Wednesday 16 November 2022, 16:00
Liberty Building, Room LT LG06

Professor Kristina Hultgren

Since the turn of the millennium, most of Europe’s non-English-dominant nation states have seen a remarkable rise in English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). To date, this rise has been attributed mainly to supranational drivers, such as internationalization, the Bologna Process and increased cross-border competition and collaboration. What has received less attention is the role of the nation state and the fact that many European countries have, since the 1980s, undergone extensive reform processes that have fundamentally altered and reconfigured the way in which higher education institutions are governed.

Situated in the intersection of Political Science and Linguistics, this talk reports on emerging findings from my UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship project. The project retheorizes the rise of English as a Medium of Instruction in European Higher Education as an outcome of ‘steering at a distance’ reforms. ‘Steering at a distance’ is an approach to governance that increases the autonomy of higher education institutions while putting into place extensive accountability mechanisms such as key performance indicators and formula funding. Drawing on policy documents and interviews with ‘elite participants’ (Khan 2012) – Ministers of Education, Government Advisors, Civil Servants, University Rectors, Internationalization Strategists, Faculty Deans, Heads of Departments, Programme Leaders, etc., I elucidate the rarely seen decision-making processes that take place in the interaction between government and institutional level.

I argue that political reform processes centred on ‘steering at a distance’, emanating from the level of the nation state, may have played a role in paving the way for the rise of English as a Medium of Instruction. Whilst the findings confirm the shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ and the emergence of a range of policy actors at multiple levels, they simultaneously highlight the lesser-known role of nation state in driving language shift in the academic domain. I conclude by considering the implications of this retheorization on existing theories of the spread of global English as well as on the real world.

Kristina is Professor of Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at The Open University, UK. Since 2020, she has been leading a 4-year interdisciplinary research project funded with £1.4 million by the UK Research and Innovation on English as a Medium of Instruction.

To attend, please register here.