Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

International Students and the Politics of Language among 'Globalising Universities' in Asia

Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

International Students and the Politics of Language among 'Globalising Universities' in Asia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Up until the recent decade, it has been taken for granted that English is "the de facto language of globalised higher education" (Kell and Vogl, 2010, p. 5). In the case of Europe, the role of English in higher education was indirectly cemented through the Bologna process in 1999, which triggered the move to standardize degrees throughout Europe. Coupled with the increasing influx of students for whom English is the primary medium of instruction, European universities have since started to adopt English at various levels of learning. Commenting on Swedish universities, Nilsson (2003) noted that the elevated status of English came as a response to the 'increasingly globalized character of university education' and to 'internationalization at home'. It is therefore unsurprising that the rise of English has sparked off various controversies and debates concerning its status in research and teaching in European higher education. With respect to East-West educational migration, Matthews and Sidhu (2005, p. 56) observe that "the movement of predominantly Asian students from non-English speaking countries into Western English-speaking centres remains fundamentally unidirectional and is a legacy of British and American colonialism which secured English as the key language of global commerce". The demand for English language training and instruction has thus experienced phenomenal growth, as has the provision of English language programmes such as language boot camps for international students in western universities (Taylor, 2004, p.154).

The study of English is often perceived as almost concomitant with a 'global curriculum' and proficiency in English is often considered an important component of global literacy skills (Tsui and Tollefson 2007, p. 1). For example, in their review of the literature on student mobilities out of East Asia, Brooks and Waters (2011) point to "the desire for fluency in English" as the "one overwhelming concern" directly related to the accumulation of cultural capital in order to navigate one's way to success in a globalised world (Cole, 2009). In this vein, Chew (2010, p. 83; see also Huang and Yeoh, 2005; Park and Bae, 2009) characterizes the migration of "study mothers" from Korea and China to English-speaking countries for the sake of facilitating their children's acquisition of English language fluency as "linguistic migration," that is, "migration [as part of a "well planned and carefully calculated project"] necessitated primarily in search of a 'linguistic capital', relating usually to 'premium' languages such as English, which is readily exchangeable in the market place for other kinds of capital".

The past decade, however, has seen what amounts to a revolution in Asian universities' push towards internationalisation, accompanied by the growth of international ranking exercises fed with the increasing demand for consumer information on academic quality as the catchment area of univer sities expands from country to the region and beyond (Dill and Soo, 2005, p. 495). International mix (and the lack of it), a performance indicator in The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), has often been identified as 'the main culprit' behind the lackluster performance of South Korea's higher education institutions (Cho 2012, p. 19). Similarly in Japan, there is strong criticism that despite costly policy reforms spanning forty years, Japanese education institutions are 'still far from attaining the goal of genuine internationalization' (Hammond 2012, p. 7). 'Casting off its inward-looking mode of thinking' and embracing 'internationalization from within' (accepting foreign talents in the fields of research and education) have been identified as the solution to resuscitate Japan's "flailing" economy (The Yoimuri Shimbun, 7 August 2013). All of these remarks point towards the urgency to reconsider the rationale, design and implementation of internationalisation programmes, including addressing the place and role of English vis-a-vis local languages. …

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