Internationalisation and EAP: Transforming the Academy through a Focus on Language

This month we published Making Language Visible in the University by Bee Bond. In this post the author explains the context in which her book was written.

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and the (neoliberal) Higher Education policies of internationalisation have an ‘elective affinity’ (Zepke, 2015). In other words, the exponential growth in the demand for EAP is directly linked to an increasing focus on marketing Higher Education study to an international market. EAP as an emerging field of study and practice would not have been afforded as much space to grow and develop had it not been for global Higher Education policies that encouraged student mobility across borders and the increasing stronghold of English as the accepted norm for most academic communication. EAP and its practitioners directly benefit from this growth.

However, for most EAP practitioners, the neoliberal focus of such policies sits uncomfortably with their world view and their professional practices. The connection between the international student and financial gain for an institution works to the detriment of a focus on the intellectual, cultural and social benefits that come from studying in a global community and does not sit well within the epistemology of those involved in the study and teaching of languages.

Furthermore, there is a tension between EAP and the rest of the academy due to the frequent framing of international students as being in deficit. This perception positions those whose work is focused on supporting English language learning students to find ways of accessing academic content in English as being on the edges of academia – acting as a bridge to the real work rather than an integral part of academic life. This is also connected to the invisibility of language within the academy which, as Turner argues (2004) only becomes visible when it is viewed as a technical problem that then needs to be ‘fixed’ by an EAP practitioner.

It is these intersections and misconnections between internationalisation, the EAP practitioner and the view of language as either an invisible or a technical aside to the real academic work of disciplinary content knowledge development that provide the context for my book. In order to address these issues, and move EAP away from the ‘edges of academia’ (Ding & Bruce, 2017) it is clear that it is necessary to work within this context; to embrace the ‘elective affinity’ that EAP  has with internationalisation policies and to work through them to effect change rather than to ignore or resist from the margins. By engaging in scholarship; acting as ethnographers of the academy to better understand the role of language within specific disciplines and contexts, and then communicating and highlighting this understanding beyond the EAP community, I believe it is possible for EAP practitioners to work in partnership with international students as agents for change.

International students have the potential to positively transform higher education practices, forcing a reflexive, shifting awareness of pedagogy, academic practices and the disciplinary canon. EAP practitioners, fully embedded and accepted within their institution as valued scholars, should work as advocates and allies for these students, pushing for structural change through policy decisions. In this way, EAP practitioners can become agents for positive change rather than marginalised technicians who are exposed to the political and structural decisions made around them.

Bee Bond, The University of Leeds


For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like International Student Engagement in Higher Education by Margaret Kettle.

Introducing International Teaching Assistants

We recently published A Transdisciplinary Approach to International Teaching Assistants edited by Stephen Daniel Looney and Shereen Bhalla. In this post the editors explain how their book reframes the notion of ‘the ITA problem’.

For several decades in North America, international graduate students have accounted for a significant portion of the teaching labor force at large universities. Thus, novice multilingual teachers with little to no pedagogical training are leading courses populated by undergraduates from the US who have limited experience with intercultural interaction in high-stakes contexts. By the 1980s, this situation had been dubbed “the International Teaching Assistant (ITA) Problem,” and the problem was perceived to be a sociolinguistic one, i.e. lacking symmetry between the speech and pragmatic expectations of ITAs and undergraduates. States began passing legislation requiring that ITAs’ English proficiency be certified before they could undertake teaching responsibilities. This led to the emergence of ITA Programs at universities across the US and Canada as well as the establishment of the ITA Interest Section in the International TESOL organization. ITA Programs vary vastly both in where they are housed in universities, e.g. an academic department, teaching and learning center, or Intensive English Program, and in the services that they provide, e.g. semester-long courses or shorter workshops and seminars. The ITA Interest Section is composed almost exclusively of teachers and administrators with few researchers being active participants. This imbalance has arguably caused ITA as a sub-field of applied linguistics and TESOL to be marginalized and misunderstood as deficit oriented.

Framing ITAs as a problem surely offends the 21st century applied linguist’s sensibilities, but researchers and practitioners realized early on that the issue is more complex than just pronunciation and grammar which can be addressed with remedial ESL courses. ITAs need to be able to exploit and interpret prosodic and multimodal cues, and classroom communication is a two-way street, involving undergraduates as well as ITAs. At the same time, perceptions of speech and expectations for classroom behavior are influenced by experiences and biases that may be conscious or not. While ITA research has dealt with language, interaction, and the perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of ITAs and undergraduates, other stakeholders such as faculty members, ITA practitioners, and university administrators have only entered the periphery of the discussion at best and an in-depth look at policy is non-existent to the best of my knowledge.

Drawing on recent developments in applied linguistics, our volume is a collection of state-of-the-art ITA studies from a variety of perspectives. While there are chapters addressing language and social interaction, there are also studies of communities of practice, the contact hypothesis, assessment, policy, and program evaluation. As a whole, the contributions to this volume reframe ITAs as skilled multilingual professionals who are developing sophisticated interactional repertoires for teaching and academic interaction. Additionally, these multilingual professionals are being socialized into communities of practice including university classrooms, departments, research labs, and student organizations. The collection recognizes the roles multiple stakeholders play in ITA and the institutional and ideological realities that these stakeholders face. While ITA has been framed as a North American issue, English is increasingly the medium of instruction in universities around the world, making our volume relevant to researchers, teachers, and administrators worldwide. The use of English for Teaching (and Academic) Purposes is a global issue that deserves further attention. Our volume only begins to crack the surface of what could be fertile ground for applied linguists, but we hope it can serve as a springboard for further investigation.


For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like International Student Engagement in Higher Education by Margaret Kettle.

The Impact of Neoliberalism on Education and Language Learning

This month we are publishing Language, Education and Neoliberalism edited by Mi-Cha Flubacher and Alfonso Del Percio. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and touch on its main themes.

Nowadays cuts in spending, austerity plans and restructuring of the public sector have become commonplace for a large part of the world population. This development is far from new, but rather stands in the tradition of neoliberalism, as introduced on both sides of the Atlantic by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

In the context of education, central elements to these reforms have been privatisation, competitiveness and marketisation. The colonization of education by market principles has introduced a paradigmatic change which has resulted in an abdication of a Humboldtian education model to one which favours ideas of employability and profitability. This change proves problematic for most humanities, social sciences and language studies which have to legitimise their worth. The neoliberal austerity measures thus also have a very direct impact on us as researchers and teachers alike.

Against this backdrop, we wanted to engage in an empirical discussion on the interplay and effects of the implementation of neoliberal policies, the increasing hegemony of neoliberal governmentalities on education and on language learning and teaching. In short, as we, the editors of this volume argue, the current political economic conditions bring about a resignification of education, language, and the self that fits the neoliberal agenda, which pushes, among other things, the turning of language into skills and items of branding, the responsibilisation of individuals and the turning of them into entrepreneurs of themselves.

We follow the trajectories of students, teachers and educators as well as of institutions that are subjected to these political economic transformations. Touching upon a variety of geographical, social, and linguistic contexts, the researchers contributing to this book will provide first-hand accounts and critical inquiries into issues that range from the detrimental ideologies of self-deprecation of South Koreans in the face of hastily implemented English as the general medium of instruction for higher education, to efforts of the Chinese government to commercialise the teaching of Mandarin and the contradictory effects this has on notions of linguistic authenticity and legitimacy.

Further insights are offered in terms of language teaching, i.e. the neoliberal conditions teachers of English for Academic Purposes have to face, due to which they turn to veritable “resource leeching” or the joint-initiative of teachers and parents to support their refugee children, left behind in official US school policies that is entirely output-oriented. University students also form the object of interest in this volume, as conscious agents trying to accumulate linguistic capital even if only for symbolic reasons, both Italian-speaking students in German-speaking Switzerland or Brazilian students in Anglo-Canada. A third stream brings contributors to discuss minority languages in educational settings in the US (Spanish-English dual bilingual and Mexico and their recalibration along neoliberal ideas of commodification and valorization). A final focus centres on language teaching for vocational purposes.

Come and join us on this journey – even if you might not like what you see.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like A Post-Liberal Approach to Language Policy in Education by John E. Petrovic.