Wednesday 30 April 2014

Controversy as English becomes a “Galloping Global Phenomenon”

Teaching in English is a “galloping phenomenon” across the world and causing controversy in some countries, according to the findings of a new study which highlights  that students in non-English speaking countries are increasingly learning subjects such as Maths and Science in English instead of their mother tongue.

The English language has been dubbed “the new Latin” because it is being used as a medium of instruction in a growing number of non-English speaking countries where it is seen as a passport to global academic and business communities.

But while Latin replaced other languages with the spread of the Roman Empire, English is being used for academic purposes alongside indigenous tongues.

Opinions are divided on whether this is a good development, with some countries opposed and others embracing the opportunity, says an interim report on new research by the British Council and University of Oxford’s Department of Education.

University administrators tend to regard “English as a Medium of Instruction” (EMI) as an opportunity to recruit high fee-paying international students and to rise up global rankings. Lecturers are more idealistic, saying it could improve the exchange of ideas and promote better relations between countries.

“English was considered by teachers as “the new Latin”, a world language which could facilitate movement in academia and business,” says the report on the findings of research into the use of EMI in 55 countries.

“EMI was a personal challenge, a way to improve personally and professionally as teachers advance their careers. Not only students but teachers too can become international in an EMI context,” it says.

But there was some concern about the impact on the home language and culture and fears that it could foster inequality between those – usually richer – students who could speak English and those who could not. Some countries, such as Pakistan, had changed their education policies to ensure that students from poorer backgrounds could learn English.

The interim findings – which will be published and debated during Going Global, the British Council’s annual conference for leaders of international education, hosted this year in Miami April 29 - May 1 - forms the first part of a research project into the spread and impact of EMI. The second phase will look at clusters of countries in more detail and include an online global survey to canvass the views of teachers across the world.

Anna Searle, the British Council’s Director of English Language, commented: "We see the move to using English as the lingua franca of higher education globally as the most significant current trend in internationalising higher education".

Professor Ernesto Macaro, Director of the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, said “More and more institutions across the world are using English to teach academic subjects, spurred on by a desire to internationalise their offer and their academic profile. This phenomenon has very important implications, in non-Anglophone countries, for teaching and learning as well as for language policy decisions.”

Respondents in nearly two thirds of countries reported policy changes in the past 10 years over teaching in English but only around 40 per cent had policies in place. A presidential decree in Uzbekistan, for example, encourages English to be taught, spoken and used for business and Government ministry communication. 

However, Israel, Senegal and Venezuela were said to be refusing to allow EMI in public education and a higher education institution in Italy had fought and won a battle against the adoption of teaching in English.

Respondents, including university professors and administrators and public policy makers, had mixed views on its impact. Just over half – 50.9 per cent - said EMI was controversial but 38 per cent were in favour and none said they were against it.

Respondents in 83 per cent of countries said they did not have enough qualified teachers and just 1.8 per cent said they had sufficient numbers of qualified teachers.

Looking ahead, nearly 70 per cent said they expected to see a growth in EMI, while just 7.3 per cent thought it would decline, and 1.8 per cent said it would stay the same.

Further research is needed into the level of English competence required to provide quality instruction and into whether or not the learning of academic subjects is improved, says the report.

Notes to Editor

The study was conducted by the University of Oxford Department of Education and the British Council between September 2012 and March 2014. The preliminary findings of phase one of ‘EMI: a growing phenomenon’ will be presented at Going Global. The research has been carried out by Julie Dearden, Senior Research and Development Fellow, Department of Education at the University of Oxford, and the full report is scheduled to be published in November 2014.


For Interviews please contact Tim Sowula at or +447771 718 135

Countries surveyed in the report:






Bosnia and Herzegovina;







Czech Republic;






Hong Kong;




















Saudi Arabia;



South Africa;

South Sudan;


Sri Lanka;











About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 7,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publically-funded grant provides less than 25 per cent of our turnover which last year was £781 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.