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Problematizing EMI language policy in a transnational world

China's entry into the global higher education market

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 March 2020


Language policies generally seek to establish, regulate, and conform linguistic practices – whether explicit or implicit – that occur within an ‘authorized’ domain. While there are multiple levels (societal, institutional, and interpersonal) at which such policies are enacted (Hornberger & Johnson, 2007), academic institutions are often significant policy arbiters as they serve as crucial switchboards (Blommaert, 2010; De Costa, 2010) that connect policies at the societal and interpersonal levels. In particular, English medium of instruction (EMI) policies that mandate English as the primary means of academic content delivery have played a pivotal role in enabling universities in countries such as Bangladesh (Rahman & Mehar Singh, 2019), China (e.g., Hu, 2009; Song, 2019; Zhang, 2018), Saudi Arabia (Barnawi, 2018; Phan & Barnawi, 2015), and Vietnam (Phan, 2018) to establish themselves on the world stage and engage with the global community. Even though several scholars (e.g., Coleman, 2006; Jenkins, 2019a; Knight, 2013, 2016; Macaro et al., 2018) have investigated EMI policies across different contexts, the following central question concerning these policies still persists: in what ways has the implementation of EMI policies transformed the higher education sector, and subsequently affected primary social actors, such as students, teachers, and administrators embedded within these shifting contexts? These concerns, we posit, are amplified by the transnational movements of people and institutions (Duff, 2015) and the ever-increasing speed and agility with which TESOL as a field has to respond to the shifting tides of globalization (Barnawi, 2020). Given this conspicuous gap in an ever-evolving English language policy landscape, we set out to critically review previous works that have examined the implementation of EMI policies within a transnational higher education (TNHE) context. TNHE is characterized by the transformation of higher education across the globe (Knight, 2013; Kosmützky & Putty, 2016) as Western-based universities export models – driven by a neoliberal agenda to maximize financial profit – through the establishment of overseas branch campuses. In reviewing works that examine TNHE, we aim to stimulate dialogue on this contemporary phenomenon.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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