Home News and Politics Uncover the Jaw-Dropping Intrigue Behind English’s World Domination in Global Higher Education – You Won’t Believe Your Eyes!

Uncover the Jaw-Dropping Intrigue Behind English’s World Domination in Global Higher Education – You Won’t Believe Your Eyes!

Uncover the Jaw-Dropping Intrigue Behind English’s World Domination in Global Higher Education – You Won’t Believe Your Eyes!

The Power Politics of English in Global Higher Education

The Reliability of Online English Tests and Changing Admission Practices

Reports over the summer of universities in the United Kingdom withdrawing their offers after Pearson revoked some of its online English-language results due to alleged suspicion of cheating have raised some questions within international education.

During the COVID period, everyone accepted online English-language tests delivered by private organisations; as we move into the post-COVID phase, online English tests have become less reliable. Have the tests changed, or have the universities – or the wider international education landscape – changed?

The History of English-language Proficiency in the UK

When we look back at the history of English-language proficiency in the UK, we find that the Secure English Language Test was introduced in 2010 by UK Border Agency (later called UK Visas and Immigration) as a means to control and curtail net incoming immigration.

But at the same time, the tests have given UK higher education the power to determine its practices around student admissions, using universities’ own English tests or accepting English tests delivered by private profit-making providers as the government reduced its funding of UK higher education and the less regulated world of international education became the alternative solution to the financial stability of UK universities.

English-speaking Countries as Attractors of International Education

The developed English-speaking countries have been the major players in attracting international education from the rest of the world as a result of their educational offering as well as their cultural capital, including the use of the English language.

Undoubtedly, the decision to impose English-language requirements by UK universities has further extended the spread of English-learning zeal and aspiration globally from primary education to universities.

The Language of Employment and Academia

During an interview in Morocco, Tony Reilly, a seasoned former country director with the British Council, commented that there are around 1.8 billion people worldwide who speak English either as a native speaker or as a second language.

English is accepted as the universal language of the internet, 85% of global organisations operate in English, and 70% of employers in non-English speaking countries require English as one of their recruitment criteria.

It could be said that it has become a key language of employment. A Moroccan graduate from a top French university who hopes to find employment at a large French multinational is likely to need to be fluent in English as well as French. Globally, English is also the language of academia, research and science.

English and Higher Education Around the World

Recently the Greek government initiated several projects to attract international students to study in Greece, and one of its main strategies is to develop programmes delivered in English.

In July 2022, the government changed the constitution, allowing universities to offer bachelor degrees in Greece in English. Another initiative is to deliver medicine programmes in English for international students through charging a reasonable fee of €12,000 (US$12,700) a year, which makes them attractive to international students compared to equivalent programmes delivered in the UK or the United States.

The South Korean government recently announced its plan to increase the number of English as a Medium of Instruction courses or programmes as one part of its effort to attract more international students, dubbed the ‘Study Korea 300K’ plan. According to the government’s report, IEQAS-accredited higher education institutions in South Korea offer 13% of their total courses in English, which they perceive as too low.

The Ministry of Education seeks to increase English-track programmes to take in more students from English-speaking countries. However, Korea is attracting students from Asia over students from Anglophone countries. For most of these students, English is not their first language.

In China, English was listed as one of the key subjects, along with Chinese and mathematics, that all Chinese students needed to undertake as part of the national college examination in 1983. Since then, we have seen a boom in the learning and acquisition of English as a second language in China.

In Indonesia, the most visible difference between the more expensive private Western curriculum and the national curriculum in schools is children’s ability to speak fluent English or not.

This move in non-English speaking countries to adopt the use of the English language in education is more than pedagogical; it is deeply political.

The Threat to Other Languages

Some national governments’ decisions to drive the internationalisation of higher education through the use of English implicitly encourages more people to take up English as a global language. This could threaten the existence of other languages taught as second languages.

From a linguistic perspective, the adaptation of a global English also poses a serious threat to other languages, which could even be called ‘linguistic genocide’.

More generally, however, when English becomes the first choice as a second language, it poses the less dramatic but far more widespread danger of what we might call linguistic curtailment, both in qualitative and quantitative terms.

The Language Politics of English

The position of English in the world is not an accidental or natural result of global forces, as Robert Phillipson argues. The British Council and other organisations promote the worldwide use of English for economic and political purposes.

The rise of English in non-English-speaking countries is not just about language acquisition; it is deeply rooted in the global politics of power, influence and aspirational status.

This politicisation underscores the broader challenges and complexities faced by non-English-speaking countries as they navigate their positions within the global educational and political hierarchies. In a world in which ‘becoming’ seems to take precedence over ‘being’, every action today causes another reaction and outcome tomorrow.

The Complex Terrain of Global Education

Global education is a complex terrain. While English proficiency is vital, it is not the sole indicator of a comprehensive global education. Attributes like a global mindset, intercultural understanding, kindness and empathy are equally, if not more, significant.

Yet, many higher education institutions in non-English-speaking countries adopt English as a simple metric of their ‘international’ calibre, highlighting the deeply entrenched politics of English on a global scale.

Cheryl Yu is an international higher education practitioner, researcher and consultant. Kyuseok Kim (Mick) is a PhD student at Korea University, specialising in higher education administration. He has more than 13 years of experience in international higher education, having held positions at both a research university and a US branch campus in South Korea. LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/MickKim; Blog: reviewglobalhighered.blogspot.com.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here