British newspapers were full of stories at the end of May about French universities considering teaching in English. There was an element of triumphalism to most of these news reports. Newspaper columnists and their editors had great fun compiling lists of English words in common usage in the French language. My personal favourite is the French name for walkie-talkie two way radio systems, which my newspaper informs me is apparently talkie-walkie. I guess it is quite normal for the institutions of two old rivals to enjoy the embarrassments and agonies of their adversary and to be rather jealous of any successes. C’est la vie!
What the British newspapers failed to report was that teaching in English is just one of many proposals for reform of the French Higher Education (HE) system put forward by the French HE Minister Geneviève Fioraso. The specific reason for teaching in English is nothing to do with diplomatic relations between the UK and France, nor is it much to do with ideas about the potential benefits for young people in France, it is instead an expedient change, aimed at recruiting more fee paying international students to study in France, reducing the cost of the French HE system to the French government and its taxpayers and boosting the international reputation of French universities.
Earlier in the month I attended a conference on the internationalisation of HE in Newcastle (a city which ironically is home to a largely francophone football team in which the English centre-back is taking French lessons so that he can communicate with his team mates). The Newcastle conference was addressed by Ingrid Piller, Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Australia. Her subject was the Englishization of HE, which she characterised as a rather sinister consequence of neolibral reforms to HE systems, arguably not that different to the sort of thing that Fioraso is proposing in France.
Professor Piller used the example of the South Korean HE system to warn of the unintended consequences of introducing competition and making English the language of instruction. Her argument was as follows:
- In the hope of improving the quality of HE provision and to reduce the burden of the tax payer, many countries have introduced new public management reforms to their HE system, at the heart of which is the introduction of competition for student enrolments and government research and teaching funding.
- Competition between institutions is measured at the international and national level by league tables. These tables favour international research publications, which are largely in the English language. The tables also measure international staff and student numbers. International staff and students and international research publications all push institutions toward teaching in English and publishing research in English language publications.
- In an attempt to move their institutions up the international league tables and to attract international students, top South Korean universities have converted to teaching in English. One, the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) conducts all of its teaching in English. So Korean students studying for example Japanese or Mandarin, have English as their language of instruction.
- Some of the unintended consequences of the Englishization of Korean universities Professor Piller mentioned are:
- Many long serving staff struggle to deliver in English, students report that lectures are difficult to understand, staff don’t open up sessions for discussion because they don’t have the language skills to do so. They tend to teach defensively from behind detailed powerpoint slides.
- Language skills become more important in recruitment and selection than disciplinary expertise.
- The quality of student analysis declines as more emphasis is put on the language they use to convey their point rather than their argument.
- Professor Piller told of an unusually high suicide rate among academic staff and students at English language universities in South Korea.
I am not aware of similar problems being experienced in Scandinavia, Netherlands or in Business Schools in France and Spain, however I am aware that academic managers at some Italian Business Schools contemplating teaching in English face significant hostility from the managed academics. I can only imagine the reaction if a UK university decided to teach in a language other than English.
For now the lingua franca of international business is English, so it kind of makes sense for business schools to offer programmes taught in English, even if they are located in France, Spain, or China. In twenty years time it might make sense for these same programmes, including their equivalent in UK, US and Australia to be taught in Mandarin Chinese. Beyond Business Studies however, I think the argument is far more nuanced and complicated. Professor Piller sounds an interesting warning about the merits of whole university Englisization. I do not think for one minute that this will be the outcome of Minister Fioraso’s reforms in France.
Senior Teaching Fellow
Durham University Business School
Prior to entering academic life Philip spent 17 years working as a manager in the National Health Service (NHS) in Yorkshire and the north east of England. While still a manager in the NHS he studied for a part-time MBA at Durham Business School. In 2000, he joined the University of York, where he stayed until moving to Durham in autumn 2012.
Philip has two main areas of research interest and activity, public sector strategy and internationalisation and the scholarship of teaching and learning. His public sector strategy interest encompasses health service management and university management, in particular the international business in higher education, which is the subject of his doctoral research. Much of his work in the field of teaching and learning also relates to internationalising teaching and learning, making teaching and learning more appropriate and relevant to an international audience.
Over the past 20 years, management schools in France have led the way in providing young internationally minded graduates fit to work in modern business. They should recognize this and stop apologizing for what they have achieved.
Don’t tell your English professor that I told you this. Foreign accents are wonderful and whether you are travelling for study, business or pleasure you should do everything to keep yours. They can be good for business too.
Those of us working in higher education at the moment must recognise that some of the targets to which are business schools work are leading to dysfunctional outcomes, for example staff being taken away from front line teaching and student support duties so that they can write articles for obscure academic journals.
It was a great pleasure during the last semester to share a class at Grenoble EM with Dr. Gregg Glover. Gregg has been a good friend for many years (though he might deny this!) and I am delighted he accepted our invitation.
He did his doctorate in organization change at Harvard University and has worked there for over 25 years. He was able to bring his vast teaching and professional experience to the class and share some of the things he has learned and studied while working for the world’s most known university.
This week, Philip Warwick, Senior Teaching Fellow at Durham University Business School, UK, writes at guest blog on the state of internationalisation in British universities. Professor Warwick has been studying the international strategies of a number of universities in the UK and in other countries. He has found that approaches vary across countries. Within the UK he has identified four specific strategies to international development within the group of universities he studied.
GlobalHigherEd: Income from HE course fees by country of HE institution 2010/11 – table