The expansion of English-medium instruction
in the Nordic countries: Can top-down university
language policies encourage bottom-up disciplinary
•Karen M. Lauridsen
Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
Abstract Recently, in the wake of the Bologna Declaration and similar international
initiatives, there has been a rapid increase in the number of university courses and pro-
grammes taught through the medium of English. Surveys have consistently shown the
Nordic countries to be at the forefront of this trend towards English-medium instruction
(EMI). In this paper, we discuss the introduction of EMI in four Nordic countries (Den-
mark, Finland, Norway and Sweden). We present the educational setting and the EMI
debate in each of these countries and summarize relevant research ﬁndings. We then make
some tentative suggestions for the introduction of EMI in higher education in other
countries. In particular, we are interested in university language policies and their rele-
vance for the day-to-day work of faculty. We problematize one-size-ﬁts-all university
language policies, suggesting that in order for policies to be seen as relevant they need to
be ﬂexible enough to take into account disciplinary differences. In this respect, we make
some speciﬁc suggestions about the content of university language policies and EMI course
syllabuses. Here we recommend that university language policies should encourage the
discussion of disciplinary literacy goals and require course syllabuses to detail disciplinary-
speciﬁc language-learning outcomes.
Department of Languages, Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden
University Physics Education Research Group, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Uppsala
University, Uppsala, Sweden
Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), School of Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus
University, Aarhus, Denmark
University of Jyva
¨Language Centre, Jyva
Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
The Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, Oslo, Norway
Keywords University language policy Bilingualism Disciplinary literacy English-
medium instruction Nordic language policy
At the time of writing, many countries in Europe are in the process of introducing courses
and programmes offered in English into their higher education systems. This trend towards
increased English-medium instruction (EMI) in higher education has been shown to be
accelerating over the last 15–20 years (Maiworm and Wa
¨chter and Mai-
worm 2008,2014). There are a number of questions that this rapid increase in EMI raises,
for example: What are the critical issues involved in the expansion of EMI in higher
education? What might this expansion of EMI mean for language policies in higher
education? Do policy needs change as the proportion of EMI in a country’s higher edu-
cation system grows? Do different disciplines have different policy needs? In this respect,
we argue that there is much to be learned by studying the experiences of those countries
where EMI has already been expanded in higher education. As an illustration of the wider
policy trends that may be at work, this special issue of Higher Education examines lan-
guage policy in the Nordic countries. In this particular article, we introduce the setting of
Nordic higher education as a backdrop for the special issue and present some of the themes
that have surfaced in the Nordic countries during the process of introduction and expansion
of EMI. To do this, the article brings together researchers with an intimate knowledge of
the development of EMI in higher education in four of the Nordic countries—Denmark,
Finland, Norway and Sweden—each of whom have contributed information on the uni-
versity language environment in their respective countries. We ﬁnish the article with a
number of conclusions about the introduction of university language policies and suggest
the concept of disciplinary literacy as a possible catalyst for the bottom-up development
and implementation of such policies.
Language in higher education in the Nordic countries
The four Nordic countries that are the focus of this article have relatively small popula-
tions: Denmark 5.6 million, Finland 5.4 million, Norway 5.1 million and Sweden 9.5
million. Linguistically, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish belong to the Northern-Germanic
language group and are broadly mutually intelligible, whilst Finnish belongs to the Finno-
Ugric language group. Of these Nordic languages, only Swedish—an ofﬁcial language in
both Sweden and Finland—manages to register on the list of the 100 largest languages at
position 94 with 8.5 million native speakers
(Nationalencyklopedin 2013). Thus, although
the number of students in Nordic higher education has increased dramatically since the
1980s, with 50 % of the population now generally expected to attend higher education
during their lifetime, the absolute numbers of speakers of the four languages actively
involved in Nordic higher education remain low. With such a small number of ﬁrst lan-
guage speakers—and hence very small markets—it is therefore a difﬁcult and costly
Note that there are also a number of minority languages in the Nordic countries that account for the
discrepancy between population and numbers of native speakers.
enterprise for the Nordic countries to maintain and develop the status of their national
languages in all of the specialist areas within the higher education domain. It is therefore
perhaps unsurprising that the Nordic countries have been shown to be at the forefront of the
introduction of EMI in their higher education systems (Wa
¨chter and Maiworm 2014).
Whilst the motivations for the introduction of EMI in the Nordic countries may be
somewhat different and more pressing than the motivation in countries with larger markets,
we argue that there is much to be learned from the Nordic experience. Hence, in this
article, we present the developments seen in the Nordic countries as a possible antecedent
of what the future may hold for other parts of Europe where the use of English in higher
education has only recently begun to expand. In what follows then, we will ﬁrst present
of the language situation in higher education in each of the four countries,
before addressing some general themes that can be drawn out from the rise of EMI in the
Denmark has seen a steady rise in the number of EMI programmes since the 1990s. At the
time when Denmark signed the Bologna Declaration in 1999, Danish higher education
already had a 3 ?2-year bachelor/master structure, which probably made it less cum-
bersome for the universities to fairly quickly develop EMI programmes that would attract
Danish and international students together.
Figures from the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science reveal that, in 2013,
28 % of all full-time programmes at Danish universities were offered as EMI. However,
this average percentage covers a great diversity among the eight Danish universities, and
among the main academic areas or faculties. The universities offer between 12 and 61 % of
their programmes in English; the Technical University of Denmark tops the list with three
out of ﬁve programmes in English, a fact that is also reﬂected in the distribution of EMI
programmes across main academic areas. The technical (54 %) and natural sciences
(42 %) have the highest percentage of EMI programmes, whereas only 10 % of pro-
grammes in the humanities and 12 % of programmes within health are offered as EMI. In
the social sciences (26 %), EMI business programmes seem to dominate the picture.
EMI programmes are typically seen as an indication of the internationalization of higher
education, and it is at least true that offering such programmes has allowed Danish higher
education institutions to attract a growing number of international full-degree students in
the past 20 years (Uddannelses-og Forskningsministeriet 2013;Wa
¨chter and Maiworm
2014). The eight Danish universities and a growing number of other higher education
institutions all still seem to have internationalization as a strategic priority with the
intention of developing more EMI programmes that will attract more international students
to the country.
More often than not, it is taken for granted that lecturers and students are able to
seamlessly switch into English in higher education teaching and learning without any
problems (Tange 2010). Most recently, the Danish government (2013) explicitly states
that—on average—the Danes have a high level of competence in English, and that focus
should be on individual multilingualism and on students maintaining and developing their
other foreign language(s) during their higher education programme of study. Slightly
Note that since it was not possible to obtain similar data for the four countries, the data presented here
should not be seen as comparative but rather as a description of the situation in Nordic Higher Education.
contrary to this, another report with recommendations regarding the teaching and learning
of languages in Denmark (Arbejdsgruppen for uddannelse i fremmedsprog 2011) claims
that the Danes often overestimate their own proﬁciency in English, and that—in addition to
learning other languages—Danes also need to strengthen their English so that it becomes a
functional second language. However, despite the fact that it was the original idea behind
establishing the working group, a coherent national language policy has not yet been
The Finnish higher education system comprises two complementary state-funded sectors:
universities and universities of applied sciences (UAS). Both have their own proﬁles:
research and science orientation versus practical, professional orientation. The national
guidelines for higher education are provided by the Ministry of Education and Culture,
according to which internationalization is needed for societal renewal, for promoting
diversity and networking, and for national competitiveness and innovativeness in general.
Needless to say, the number of EMI degree programmes is high and a rapid upward trend
has been seen since the Bologna reform and EHEA guidelines.
All international degree programmes (IDPs) were evaluated in 2012 by the Finnish
Higher Education Evaluation Council, and the statistics that follow are from its ﬁnal report
¨limaa et al. 2013). There were 399 IDPs in Finnish HEIs, 257 at universities and 142 at
UAS. Some 35 % of them were organized within international consortia as joint or double
degree programmes. Of the university EMI programmes, 98 % were at the master level,
whereas 75 % of the UAS programmes were at the bachelor level. Practically, all ﬁelds of
study were represented, with technology and business as the predominant ﬁelds in both
(covering some 74 % at the UAS and 50 % at the universities). Some 13,000 students
(22 % Finns at the universities, 40 % at the UAS) were studying in these programmes, and
the number of teachers involved was over 5000 and c. 70 % of them were Finns.
The Finnish HEIs are obliged to implement the measures suggested in the national
guidelines and to report on them in the annual budget negotiations with the ministry. As
regards, EMI-related issues directly, the present strategy (Finnish Ministry of Education
2009) addresses the quality of teaching and counselling, demonstration of skills in the
language of instruction, and promotion of national languages and culture. These are then
speciﬁed in institutional language policies, which are in place at most HEIs. In general,
teacher competences in English and pedagogy, as well as entry-level language require-
ments of students, are among the quality criteria to be followed and systematically sup-
ported. As all HE degrees for Finnish students include compulsory studies in academic
Finnish, Swedish, and in one or two foreign language(s), the entry-level requirement
mostly concerns international students. In addition, the institutional language policy usu-
ally provides that both Finnish/Swedish and English scientiﬁc communication are to be
supported systematically to ensure the quality of theses and assignments and the compe-
tence to communicate disciplinary expertise to various audiences (see, for example,
University of Helsinki 2007; University of Jyva
¨2012). Moreover, non-Finnish-
speaking Finns must have opportunities to acquire sufﬁcient Finnish skills for social
integration and potential employment in Finland. It should also be mentioned here that all
staff members with teaching duties at the Universities of Jyva
¨and Helsinki are
required obligatory studies in university pedagogy, regardless of the language of instruc-
tion. The UAS also require pedagogical qualiﬁcations.
Although internationalization is generally accepted as a necessity, there are also public
debates that emerge occasionally about EMI. They relate to language issues, e.g. Finnish
students’ right to complete their degree in Finnish and/or Swedish, to tuition-free higher
education available for all and to the employability of international graduates in Finland.
In Norway, higher education is organized in around ﬁfty public sector, state-funded uni-
versities and other institutions. The use of EMI in Norwegian higher education was ﬁrst
mapped around 2000 within broader European studies (Ammon and Mc Connell 2002;
Maiworm and Wa
¨chter 2002). The results suggested low levels of EMI; however, given the
nature of these surveys underreporting may be a methodological problem (Schwach 2009).
The frequency of EMI programmes at undergraduate and doctoral levels has not yet been
thoroughly mapped; however, extrapolating from single case studies, the frequency of EMI
seems likely to be considerably lower at the undergraduate level (Brandt and Schwach
2005; Schwach 2009; Schwach et al. 2012) At the master level, Schwach (2009) reports the
following data on EMI in Norwegian higher education:
•27 % of master students were enrolled in nominally EMI programmes.
•50 % of students enrolled in EMI master programmes studied in one of three broad
areas: technology, business/economic or medicine.
•85 % of EMI students held Norwegian citizenship.
•International students were divided ﬁfty–ﬁfty between EMI and programmes with
Norwegian as the medium of instruction.
It is easy to assume that these EMI ﬁgures relate to a situation where all programme-related
activities take place in English; however, a random check of larger EMI programmes
revealed extensive use of Norwegian. Teaching through English, it seems, does not nec-
essarily mean that Norwegian disappears from a programme altogether—a ﬁnding con-
ﬁrmed by other studies in Norway and elsewhere (Lehtonen et al. 2003; Ljosland 2008;
The increase in EMI programmes is a function of disciplinary, institutional and polit-
ically motivated changes. The process had already begun before the Bologna Declaration
(1999) and continued with the introduction of new academic degrees in 2003 that
empowered students to move across national borders. Since then EMI programmes appear
to have grown from a small, specialized segment to a more mainstream activity (Schwach
2009). In the white paper, The Internationalization of Education (St. meld. nr. 14, 2008–
2009), the Norwegian government proclaimed a twofold strategy to realize its ambitions
for internationalization in higher education: by encouraging Norwegian students to study
abroad and through internationalization at home (Nilsson 1999). One result of this policy
has been the establishment of EMI programmes. An increase in EMI was also enabled
through a structural change, which gave higher education establishments more autonomy
to design new programmes. Financing is partly based on the amount of credits taken
(ECTS). Here, no distinction is made between credits taken by international students and
those taken by home students. The Government also provides an additional grant for
international students (Wiers-Jenssen 2013). Consequently, universities have become more
interested in attracting international students to their bachelor and master programmes. In
this respect, the politics of higher education is at odds with the general national language
policy to promote the use of Norwegian, as reﬂected in the white paper from 2008 St. meld.
nr. 35, (2007–2008).
According to the Swedish Higher Education Authority, some 50 universities and other
institutions organize higher education in Sweden. The majority of these, and those
enrolling most students, are public sector, state-funded universities. In Sweden, EMI in
higher education ﬁrst attracted attention in a survey of the language situation at Uppsala
University (Gunnarsson and O
¨hman 1997). This study showed that, in 1994, the frequency
of EMI was around 15 % at the undergraduate level and 70 % at the doctoral level, and
that EMI was most frequently implemented in science faculties. Reproducing this study
10 years later, Melander (2005) showed that EMI had increased in almost every faculty.
The ratiﬁcation of the Bologna Declaration in 2007 introduced the master level, thus
dividing the national higher educational system into three cycles—undergraduate, master
and doctoral—each of which comprises programmes and independent courses. Moreover,
the implementation of the charter coincided with great efforts on the part of Swedish
universities in launching EMI master programmes (Swedish National Agency for Higher
Education 2008). Accordingly, quantitative mappings by Salo
¨(2010) and (Dalberg 2013)
have pointed to an unprecedented expansion of EMI in higher education since 2007.
As of 2014, the most recent ﬁgures suggest that 28 % of all programmes are offered in
¨and Josephson 2014). All in all, the following trends can be observed. Firstly,
EMI is used most extensively in master programmes and less at the undergraduate level. For
example, in 2008–2009, 65 % of the master programmes were advertised as EMI (Salo
2010). Secondly, EMI frequency is subject to distinct disciplinary differences. In 2008, it was
reported that 46 % of all advanced EMI programmes were given within the ﬁeld of tech-
nology (Swedish National Agency for Higher Education 2008). Correspondingly, whilst EMI
is fairly uncommon in disciplines such as history and law, it occurs more often in physics and
computer science (Salo
¨and Josephson 2014). Thirdly, the frequency of EMI appears to
correlate with the extent to which educational programmes are connected to speciﬁc pro-
fessions. On this point, Salo
¨and Josephson (2014) point out that EMI is less common in
programmes that result in professional qualiﬁcations such as psychologist or engineer.
Recently, the Swedish debate on EMI has focused on pedagogical issues connected to
students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach in a foreign language (e.g. Swedish
National Agency for Higher Education 2010). As a subject of contestation and controversy,
however, EMI in Sweden feeds into the question of English in Swedish academia at large,
which has been a central language political issue since the early 1990s (e.g. Salo
From this position, the rise of EMI in Sweden has been critiqued for being at odds with
democratic ideals and language political aims, as EMI is alleged to have negative long-
term effects on the Swedish language as well as to Sweden as a knowledge society
Gunnarsson 2001). These concerns are reﬂected in the Swedish Language Act of 2009,
section 5, which states that Swedish is to be usable in all areas of society. The Act,
Note however, that other authors have taken a quite different view, suggesting that such issues are
overstated (see, for example, Bolton and Kuteeva 2012; Bjo
¨rkman 2014; Kuteeva 2014; Kuteeva and
however, makes no attempts to regulate EMI. Instead, questions of EMI are referred to
local language policies of individual universities.
Themes in Nordic higher education
Having given a brief overview of the language situation in higher education in four Nordic
countries, we will now go on to describe some of the main research themes in the
development of EMI in Nordic higher education, before moving on to a discussion of what
may be learned from these experiences.
With their small populations and limited internal markets, internationalization has long
been an essential economic necessity for the Nordic countries. Centrally, successive
governments have encouraged the use of English in Nordic higher education but have
offered little guidance or reﬂection about how English should be introduced or where it
may (or may not) be appropriate—the simple premise seems to be ‘‘more English is
better’’. By and large, this laissez-faire attitude can be traced to the underlying reasons
universities organize EMI in the ﬁrst place. On this point, some commentators (e.g.
¨rjesson 2005; Dalberg 2013) have argued that the internationalization of higher edu-
cation should be viewed as an attempt by universities to strengthen their position at home.
Such a strategy relies more on the university being associated with an international
approach than participating in a tug-of-war over the best incoming students.
Growing criticism: domain loss
The expansion of EMI was not without its critics. As early as 1989, Teleman predicted
that, ‘‘[…] the universities of the smaller countries will shift towards Anglo-American, in
connection with their striving to create education programmes that sell within the whole
market’’ (Teleman 1989: 18–19). Here, Gunnarsson (2001), for example, warned that the
Nordic academic community ran the risk of diglossia—a division of functions between
languages—with English as the academic language and the Nordic languages relegated to
being used in administration and everyday social interactions. Teleman’s paper triggered a
discussion that continues to this day in the Nordic countries about domain loss. As the
debate unfolded over the years to come, the number of domains alleged to be threatened
was narrowed down until English as a language of education stood out as the most crucial
area for exercising defence of the Nordic languages (Salo
Pragmatic protectionism: parallel language use
Initially limited to an internal debate among linguists, the rhetoric of domain loss quickly
entered the political sphere. Here the Nordic Council of Ministers played a major role. The
council is a forum for Nordic inter-governmental cooperation, where the Nordic govern-
ments and the ministers for speciﬁc policy areas discuss and agree on issues of mutual
The preservation and promotion of the Nordic languages is naturally one such
issue dealt with in this forum. In 2006, the Nordic ministers for education and culture met
to discuss language policies. The resulting declaration on Nordic language policy rec-
ommended the adoption of parallel language use, which is explained as follows: ‘‘the
concurrent use of several languages within one or more areas. None of the languages
abolishes or replaces the other; they are used in parallel’’ (Nordic Council of Ministers
2007: 93). The notion of several languages in use at Nordic universities is partly based on
the desire for mutual intelligibility between the Nordic languages and partly on the fact that
Finland is ofﬁcially bilingual (Swedish/Finnish). However, there can be no doubt that the
promotion of parallel language use was mainly a pragmatic solution constructed in order to
deal with the rapid expansion of English in Nordic higher education. The term quickly
became the established consensus.
In the words of Gregersen and Josephson (2014: 45)
‘‘parallel language use is a necessity—only its implementation can be discussed’’ (our
translation). However, as Phillipson (2006: 25) observed, although parallel language use
may be ‘‘an intuitively appealing idea’’, it is also a ‘‘somewhat fuzzy and probably
unrealistic target’’. Kuteeva and Airey (2014: 536) went further in their critique, ques-
tioning the practical implementation of parallel language use, suggesting it was an ‘‘un-
operationalised political slogan’’. In this respect, Airey and Linder (2008) take a bottom-
up, pedagogical perspective, and suggest that the introduction of languages other than the
local language(s) into university courses should have a deﬁnite purpose deﬁned in the
syllabus. Thus, instead of focusing on university-wide parallel language use, they insist
that the debate should rather be played out at the level of individual courses and pro-
grammes. In this vision, concepts such as disciplinary discourse (Airey 2009; Northedge
2003) and disciplinary literacy (Airey 2011a,2013; Geisler 1994) become important since
they problematize the issue of which disciplinary skills students need to master in which
languages. We return to this argument later in our conclusions.
Research into teaching and learning in English
As the proportion of EMI in Nordic higher education increased, questions about the
dominance of English and the future role of the Nordic languages in higher education
began to be raised by non-linguists and mainstream actors within the disciplines them-
selves. These questions led to a large number of surveys and interviews with students and
teachers that attempted to document the linguistic landscape in higher education—a focus
that continues to the present day. These studies examine two areas: lecturer and student
attitudes to the use of English and the prevalence of EMI in higher education (e.g. Brandt
and Schwach 2005; Bolton and Kuteeva 2012; Lauridsen and Cozart 2012; Dalberg 2013;
Falk 2001; Gregersen and Josephson 2014; Gunnarsson and O
¨hman 1997; Jensen et al.
2009; Lahtonen and Pyykko
¨2005; Melander 2005; Pecorari et al. 2011; Salo
Schwach 2009; Schwach et al. 2012; Tella et al. 1999; Werther et al. 2014).
This research conﬁrmed the increasing trend towards EMI documented by Wa
Maiworm (2014) across a wide spectrum of disciplines. However, growth in EMI in the
ˇek (2013) for a more detailed discussion of the introduction and expansion of parallel language
use. See also Ka
¨llkvist and Hult (2014) for an ethnographic discourse analysis of a Swedish university
language policy committee, mapping the introduction of the term parallel language use and the committee’s
subsequent negotiation of its meaning.
Nordic countries has not been evenly distributed across disciplines. Research shows high
levels of EMI in, for example, natural sciences and engineering, but much lower levels in
humanities, arts and vocational courses, with the social sciences somewhere in between.
Bolton and Kuteeva (2012) link these disciplinary differences to different attitudes to EMI
in the various disciplines. Building on this work, Kuteeva and Airey (2014) show that these
attitudes to EMI are not arbitrary, but rather appear to be related to the type of knowledge
structure favoured by the discipline (Bernstein 1999). Besides surveys, research into the
educational viability of EMI can be divided into two themes, namely: ‘‘Do students need
support in order to learn in English?’’ and ‘‘Do teachers need support in order to teach in
English?’’ We summarize the Nordic research on this area below.
Do students need support in order to cope with EMI?
Internationally, the feasibility of EMI has been questioned by a number of researchers who
postulate that limitations in English-language skills may inhibit student ability to explore
abstract disciplinary concepts (Duff 1997; Met and Lorenz 1997).
Working at a technical university in the Netherlands, Klaassen (2001) found a drop in
test results when changing from L1 to EMI programmes. Interestingly, this difference
disappeared after 1 year. Klaassen suggests that the students in her study had adapted to
EMI. Building on this work, Airey and Linder (2006) found decreased interaction in EMI
lectures (students asked and answered fewer questions) and a focus on the process of
notetaking rather than content. Similarly, in Norway, Hellekjær (2010) found the majority
of students could cope with EMI lectures though a considerable number did have com-
prehension difﬁculties in EMI and many reported problems with notetaking.
In Sweden, Hincks (2010) demonstrated that students speak more slowly in English L2
presentations; however, Airey (2010) showed that although speech rate in disciplinary
explanations was indeed much slower in English, the disciplinary accuracy of the student
descriptions was roughly the same in English and in Swedish.
In terms of reading, Karlgren and Hansen (2003) and So
¨derlundh (2004) show that
Swedish students adopt a more surface approach to reading material in English. However,
Shaw and McMillion (2008) claim that the reading comprehension of Swedish students in
their study was comparable to that of British students provided they were given extra time.
In summary, research seems to suggest that many Nordic students do appear to be able
to cope with EMI, but more time may be needed to achieve similar disciplinary results as
L1 programmes. However, more research is needed. For example, the situation is slightly
more demanding in the case of international 2-year master’s programmes. According to
some Finnish studies and surveys, students have problems in conceptual-level language
use, research writing and intercultural issues involved in a multilingual and multicultural
classroom (Lehtonen et al. 2003;Ra
Do teachers need support in order to cope with EMI?
Other research has considered the teaching aspect, asking whether lecturers are appro-
priately equipped for EMI. Internationally, early studies of EMI teaching were carried out
in the Netherlands. Vinke et al. (1998) reported reductions in redundancy, speech rate,
expressiveness, clarity and accuracy of expression in EMI lecturers; however, Klaassen
(2001: 176) claimed that student-centred teaching was much more important than the
language level of the teacher. Klaassen suggested a threshold level of TOEFL 580—
approximately equal to level C1 on the Common European Framework—as the limit below
which language training should be necessary (Council of Europe 2001; Educational
Testing Service 2004). Above this level, Klaassen claims that pedagogical training will be
more useful than further language training. The importance of teacher pedagogy has also
been reported in Finland, where Suviniitty (2010) ﬁnds that students graded lectures that
included interactive features as generally easier to understand, irrespective of the language
competence of the lecturer. Also in Finland, Lehtonen and Lo
¨nnfors (2001) report similar
ﬁndings to Vinke’s. The lecturers in their study also mention problems in pronunciation
and also suggest that they would feel uncomfortable correcting students’ English. Similar
ﬁndings have also been reported from Sweden by Airey (2011b). In Denmark, Thøgersen
and Airey (2011) found the lecturer in their study spoke more slowly in EMI classes, taking
22 % more time to cover the same material. The lecturer also adopted a more formal
textbook style in EMI. As regards, the evaluations of the international master’s pro-
grammes in Finland (e.g. Ra
¨nen and Klaassen 2006;Va
¨limaa et al. 2013)
reports indicate that management of international classrooms, attending to diverse learning
styles through ﬂexible pedagogical approaches, and ensuring the clarity of instructions for,
and guidance of, thesis writing are the key topics to be addressed in the teacher in-service
development programmes in intercultural pedagogy.
Teacher certiﬁcation for EMI
Based on the above research, training and certiﬁcation courses for teaching in EMI have been
introduced by a number of Nordic universities. With few exceptions, the picture regarding
support for EMI teachers and students is generally ad hoc and taken care of at faculty or
departmental level (see Airey 2011b for an example of the training situation in Sweden). In
Finland, for example, Tohtatun (2012) recently proposed a service portfolio that could be used
for the documentation and systematic development of EMI teacher competences for higher
education. However, the most progress in this area has been made in Denmark. Here the
University of Copenhagen is leading the way, having created the Centre for Internationali-
sation and Parallel Language Use (CIP) in 2008. The centre has developed the Test of Oral
English Proﬁciency for Academic Staff (TOEPAS) (Kling and Stæhr 2011,2012). This test is
used throughout the university for the certiﬁcation of staff who plan to teach EMI courses. At
the time of writing, 396 lecturers have been tested using the TOEPAS, eleven of whom were
judged to have insufﬁcient English-language skills and did not receive certiﬁcation.
Discussion and conclusions
The main conclusion we draw from our analysis of the rise of EMI in the Nordic countries
is that whilst the creation of university language policies may be a desirable goal, drafting
such policies is fraught with difﬁculty. The need for a uniﬁed language policy becomes
more pressing as EMI expands and becomes a mainstream activity but so too does the
potential for disagreement about what should be included in such a policy.
The research available suggests that the movement from an ad hoc, piecemeal approach
to EMI to a university-wide language policy will require careful handling if the resultant
policy is not to be seen as divorced from the day-to-day reality of work in the disciplines.
Drawing on Bernstein (1999), Kuteeva and Airey (2014) show clearly that disciplines with
different knowledge structures have quite different language policy needs—what is
appropriate for one discipline may be untenable for another. For example, suppose a
university decided to measure research quality in terms of the number of publications in
international, English-language peer-reviewed journals. This research policy would
unfairly favour disciplines such as the natural sciences where there is a long tradition of
such publication and a wide range of suitable journals available. However, there is a much
more fundamental problem with such a research policy. In the sciences, language is often
viewed as a passive bearer of meaning—an unproblematic means for reporting quantitative
results (see, for example, Airey and Linder 2009: 44). Clearly, this is not the case in the
humanities and social sciences where language is conceived as integral to the thoughts and
meanings being expressed. The same research policy, then, clearly places much higher
linguistic demands on researchers in the humanities and social sciences. Here we can
imagine that language policy and research policy may well be in conﬂict. Should the
function of language policy be to further the goals of research policy? Or should research
policy be modiﬁed to allow for different linguistic traditions?
Thus, Kuteeva and Airey (2014) conclude that from a disciplinary perspective, a one-size-
ﬁts-all university language policy is unlikely to correspond to the needs of all disciplines
equally. Moreover, following Klaassen (2001) and Suviniitty (2010), such a language policy
should be complemented with appropriate didactics in the international classroom.
Clearly, university language policy is about more than meeting the needs of the dis-
ciplines. There will always be an element of regulation encouraging disciplines to adopt a
more global rather than local perspective. However, we suggest that the day-to-day work of
university lecturers is predominantly driven by disciplinary issues, rather than the desire to
ameliorate longer-term societal and cultural trends (such as the perceived marginalization
of a national language). We should therefore not be surprised if centralized university
language policies are often seen as something peripheral to the work carried out in the
disciplines. From experience, language policies that are not seen as relevant/practicable
within the disciplines risk being ignored or circumvented. We therefore agree with Kuteeva
and Airey (2014) that university language policies must be ﬂexible enough to allow for
Drawing on Spolsky (2004), Dafouz and Smit (2014) claim that ‘‘when dealing with the
language policy of a particular higher educational institution, it is paramount to also
consider the actual language practices that teachers and students are engaging in as well as
the potentially different and conﬂicting communicative and academic aims agents might be
pursuing’’. How might this be achieved? Here Airey (2011a;2013) suggests the concept of
disciplinary literacy as a useful catalyst for the discussion of disciplinary language-learning
goals. Airey (2011a) claims that the goal of university education is the production of
disciplinary literate graduates, where disciplinary literacy is deﬁned as the ability to
appropriately participate in the communicative practices of the discipline. These disci-
plinary communicative practices are developed for use in three distinct, albeit intersecting,
areas; the academy, the workplace and society at large. Clearly, communicating the dis-
cipline in these different areas places quite different demands on language(s). Thus, the
appropriate disciplinary literacy mix varies from discipline to discipline.
Drawing on this
work, we recommend that programme and course syllabuses should detail disciplinary
See Linder et al. (2014) for an empirical discussion of disciplinary literacy goals in undergraduate physics
literacy outcomes alongside more traditional learning outcomes. Here, we believe it is not
enough to simply incorporate generalized references to the language of instruction of the
form ‘‘in this course students will practice the use of disciplinary English’’. Rather we
suggest more speciﬁc references along the lines of ‘‘in this course the following skills will
be developed in the following language(s)’’. There are two consequences of including
disciplinary literacy outcomes of this type in the syllabus: ﬁrst, students will need to be
taught these skills, and second they must also be assessed.
Following Airey (2012: 64), we believe that ‘‘all teachers are language teachers’’ since
their job is to introduce students to the discourse of their chosen discipline. As such, we
claim that teachers should be able to motivate the language choice in the courses they
teach, describe the (linguistic) skills that are cultivated and detail how these skills are
developed and assessed. Moreover, there should be a clear understanding of how the skills
developed in a particular course relate to the overall goal—the development of disciplinary
We therefore suggest that university language policies should:
1. Encourage the faculty discussion of disciplinary literacy goals.
2. Require disciplines to declare the language-learning outcomes of each course.
This includes detailing how these goals relate to the overarching disciplinary literacy
goals of the curriculum and how these skills will be taught and assessed.
In this paper, we have discussed the development of EMI in Nordic higher education and
attempted to draw some conclusions from this experience. We have described the
expansion of EMI and the subsequent introduction of university language policies. We
explain how the relationship between the local language and English has been prob-
lematized in terms of parallel language use and highlight the ﬂaws in this seemingly
appealing phrase. We identify a lack of research into teaching and learning outcomes of
EMI, few formalized support mechanisms for teachers and students, and a lack of
appreciation of disciplinary differences in the implementation of policy. We suggest that a
focus on such issues would be advantageous and recommend a bottom-up approach to
policy based on encouraging the grass-roots discussion of disciplinary literacy goals. We
believe that as well as having a positive linguistic effect, such discussions have the distinct
potential to reform learning within the disciplines themselves. Here there is an opportunity
for the perception of university language policies to change from a bureaucratic document
divorced from disciplinary reality, to an important tool with something relevant to say
about the day-to-day task of creating disciplinary literate graduates.
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