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Lingua Franca Nova I: English-Taught Programmes on the Rise in Mainland Europe

According to a study published by the Academic Cooperation Association, written by Bernd Wächter and Friedhelm Maiworm, the number of English-Taught Programmes (ETPs) at universities in non-English-speaking European countries has more than tripled between 2007 and 2014. Perhaps just as remarkably, they have increased tenfold since 2001.

Data and correspondence show that the rise in ETPs and English as a Method of Instruction (EMI) is set to continue not just in Europe, but around the world – what does this mean for higher education, and academia as a whole?

ETPs – Coming to a School near You

The 2014 analysis of ETPs in Europe is the latest of three studies, the previous two being in 2007 and 2001. Let’s get the most obvious numbers in the open:

  • In 2001, there were 725 ETPs in Europe
  • In 2007, there were 2,389 ETPs in Europe
  • In 2014, there were 8,089 ETPs in Europe

Considering that the study involved some 28 countries, it should come as no surprise that the enthusiasm with which ETPs had been taken up varies across the region. The country with the most ETPs is The Netherlands, with 1,078 as of 2014 – 29.9% of all undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the country. Similarly, 38% of degrees in Denmark (accounting for 494 programmes) are ETPs, the highest proportion found in the report. On the other hand, in Turkey (included in the report as part of South East Europe) only 1.9% of degrees are ETPs.

As a general rule, ETP provision in Europe is higher in northern countries and lower in southern states. Countries in the report’s ‘Nordic’ group (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) had the highest proportion of ETPs, while countries in the ‘South East Europe’ (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Romania and Turkey) had the lowest.

ETPs have received a lot of attention, generated a fair share of controversy, and led to some major shifts in the academic culture of non-English speaking nations, but the student take-up in Europe is still far from reaching a critical mass. As of 2014, only 1.3% of students from the surveyed countries (290,000) were enrolled in ETPs. Judging by current trends, English as a Method of Instruction may well be the future of academia. It is, however, not the present.

Lecture Hall

Why the Increase?

Institutions and countries have their own reasons for providing or encouraging the provision of ETPs. The ACA report surveyed over 1,000 Institutional Coordinators and Programme Directors at schools which had established ETPs to try and figure out what was behind the increase in these programmes. These are the 12 reasons which emerged, and the level of importance attached to them by respondents:

  1. To remove a major language barrier for potential international students. 80% importance.
  2. To prepare domestic students for international markets. 80% importance.
  3. To enrich the learning experience by increasing diversity of backgrounds and nationalities. 77% importance.
  4. To enhance the institution’s profile on the international stage and in comparison to domestic rivals. 73% importance.
  5. To improve the intercultural understanding and relevant skills of domestic students. 72% importance.
  6. To build partnerships with institutions from other countries (e.g. exchange programmes, double degrees). 71% importance.
  7. To attract top international talent to the institution (e.g. PhD students). 68% importance.
  8. To draw in international academic staff. 52% importance.
  9. To attract foreign students as a future, well-qualified workforce. 47% importance.
  10. To provide high-quality tertiary education for students from developing countries, possibly as a form of development aid. 44% importance.
  11. To counterbalance a lack of enrolment from domestic students. 30% importance.
  12. To improve the school’s income base through international student fees. 30% importance.

Considering that many of Europe’s national languages aren’t widely spoken, it makes sense that the two features thought to be most important focus on the benefits of English’s (controversial) pseudo-world-language status itself. Perhaps unexpectedly, practical concerns such as revenue and student intake were joint last in importance. The most popular reasons behind establishing ETPs focus on internationalising the institution and enhancing the student experience itself.

The three most commonly-cited effects of introducing ETPs are…

  1. Improved international awareness (noticed by 84% of respondents)
  2. Strengthened partnerships with foreign institutions (noticed by 81% of respondents)
  3. Improvement of assistance, guidance and advice for foreign students (noticed by 71% of respondents)

Compare the expectations with the observed effects, and it looks like ETPs are delivering on the hopes of their organizers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it would be strange for ETPs to growing at such a rate if they weren’t resulting in positive outcomes for institutions.

On the Other Hand…

Europe has seen year-on-year growth in ETP numbers for some time now, and on just this one continent – albeit one with a massively heterogeneous higher education sector – the growth has varied heavily from place to place. This has just been a quick glimpse at the positive points and the general trend. To get the full picture, we need to look a bit further afield: Why don’t some schools want to open ETPs, and have some early adopters had negative experiences?

There has been a significant growth in ETPs worldwide along with EMI in general, but it has not always been well-received. In the follow-up to this blog (due to be published next week), we’ll look at the downsides, difficulties, and controversies that switching to English-language teaching can invite in.