Sharing Perspectives on English-Medium Instruction

by Katherine Ackerley (Volume editor) Marta Guarda (Volume editor) Francesca Helm (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 308 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 222


English is increasingly used as a medium of instruction in European higher education not only in northern countries, but also in the European ‘south’. This volume is fruit of a project which was carried out in a public university based in the north-east of Italy with the aim of delivering professional development for university lecturers engaged in EMI. It begins with an overview of the European context, the Italian context, and some of the arguments against the indiscriminate spread of English as a medium of instruction in higher education. The volume then focuses on the microcontext of the university, giving voice to the various stakeholders in EMI. These include researchers, lecturers, administrative staff, those involved in professional development and students. The central part of the volume presents the views and experiences of twelve EMI lecturers from a range of academic disciplines. In sharing these perspectives on EMI, the volume hopes to stimulate critical dialogue and research on the many issues involved in this aspect of internationalisation in higher education institutions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction to this volume (Francesca Helm)
  • Part 1: The Macro Contexts
  • Trends and issues in English-medium instruction in Europe (Robert Wilkinson)
  • English-medium instruction in Italian universities: If we’re gonna do it do it right – right? (Francesca Costa)
  • Nine and a half reasons against the monarchy of English (Attilio Motta)
  • Nove ragioni e mezzo contro la monarchia dell’inglese (Attilio Motta)
  • Part 2: The Micro Context
  • EMI at the University of Padova: an ecology of learning and teaching (Fiona Dalziel)
  • The teacher trainer (Suzanne Cloke)
  • The international relations officer (Sara Pittarello)
  • The student services officer (Sonia Gelain)
  • Part 3: Lecturers’ Perspectives
  • A survey of lecturers’ needs and feedback on EMI training (Marta Guarda & Francesca Helm)
  • The social psychologists (Marta Codato & Ines Testoni)
  • The economist (Eleonora Di Maria)
  • The pharmaceutical scientist (Barbara gatto)
  • The biostatistician (Roberto Mantovani)
  • The gender historian (Lorenza Perini)
  • The literary scholar (Alessandra Petrina)
  • The physiotherapist (Antonio Quinci)
  • The statistician (Luigi Salmaso)
  • The forest ecologist (Tommaso Sitzia)
  • The civil engineer (Nadia Ursino)
  • The cognitive neuroscientist (Antonino Vallesi)
  • The geologist (Massimiliano Zattin)
  • Part 4: Students’ Perspectives
  • What the students can teach us about EMI and language issues (Katherine Ackerley)
  • Perceptions of EMI: the students’ view of a Master’s degree programme (Caroline Clark)
  • Series Index

← 10 | 11 →


We would like to thank the following people who have directly and/or indirectly contributed to this volume which is the final output of the LEAP project, a pilot project aimed to support lecturers as they engage in EMI.

First of all the International Relations Office and the then pro-vice chancellor Alessandro Martin who had the foresight to invest in a project to support lecturers in the arduous task of changing their language of instruction. We believe that Padova is the first International Relations Office to have invested in such a project. Then of course we would like to thank the lecturers themselves and their interest in and enthusiasm about the professional development. After agreeing to support this project prof. Martin became momentarily concerned that there would be little interest on the part of the lecturers, yet this rapidly disappeared when he saw the overwhelming response to our call for applications in the LEAP project and the enthusiasm with which they have participated in courses the Language Centre has offered. Those who have contributed to this volume are just a small number of the many lecturers from whom we have learnt a great deal through our conversations during the various EMI-related workshops and courses we have run. We would also like to thank the international and local students at the University of Padova, who are key stakeholders in the ‘internationalisation’ of the university.

Thanks are also due to the Language Centre, in particular Fiona Dalziel (then director of the centre) and Caroline Clark (deputy director), the ‘teacher trainers’, in particular Charlotte Whigham and Suzanne Cloke whose expertise, dedication and also resilience have been fundamental for the successful outcomes of the professional development courses, and Mariana Bisset and Gillian Davies who have been involved in the Language Advising project. Then of course the Language Centre staff who have been supporting the administrative and technical side of the project. ← 11 | 12 →

Finally we would also like to thank the experts who have come to Padova to offer professional development to Language Centre staff and/or EMI lecturers, in particular Will Baker, Rhonwen Bowen, Clara Simeon-Fayomi Bolanle, Jim Coleman, Bryan Conry, Francesca Costa, Josep Cots, Hans De Wit, Branka Drljača Margić, Gregg Dubow, Susanne Gundermann, Kevin Haines, Dorothy Kelly, Paul Kelly, Christoph Nickenig, Robert O’Dowd, Robert Phillipson, Patrick Studer, and Bob Wilkinson. We would also like to thank all the colleagues we have met at national and international conferences where we have presented this project and who have discussed many of the issues we raise with us.

← 12 | 13 →


Introduction to this volume

1.   Introduction

The higher education landscape in Europe has been changing rapidly in the last decades, with an increase in student mobility due largely to projects such as the European Commission’s Erasmus, but also ‘globalisation’ processes and the commodification of education. The Bologna process set out to enhance comparability between institutions, facilitating mobility and promoting one of the creeds of Europe, plurilingualism. However, it appears to have fostered an inexorable rise in the use of English as the lingua franca of academia (Jenkins 2014) and a likely decline in plurilingualism (Phillipson 2003). Though perhaps not as widespread as generally perceived (see Wilkinson this volume), English is increasingly used as a medium of instruction in second and third cycle degree courses, and whilst this phenomenon is stabilizing in northern European countries, it is on the rise in the European ‘south’, in countries such as Italy which is a relative newcomer to English-medium instruction (EMI) in Europe1.

English is the compulsory foreign language at all levels of schooling, but foreign language competence in Italy is generally ranked low. According to the Special Eurobarometer 386 study (European Commission 2012), Italy is one of the countries where respondents were least likely to be able to speak any foreign language (62%), second only to Hungary (65%) but closely followed by the UK and Portugal (61%) and Ireland (60%). As in most European states, English is the most widely spoken foreign language (indicated by 34% of respondents) followed by French (16%) and Spanish (11%). If we are to look on the bright side, ← 13 | 14 → we could remark that there has been a 3% increase since the previous survey in 2005 and Italy has made the greatest improvement as regards the proportion of respondents able to speak at least two foreign languages (up six percentage points to 22%). Not surprisingly it is mainly young people and those who are still studying who are more likely to rate their level of ability in English as very good.

Italy certainly lags behind many northern European countries as regards EMI, but the number of English-taught programmes (ETPs) is increasing fast. Drawing on data from the Ministry of Education’s Universitaly website2, we find that, in 2015, 52 Italian universities were offering a total of 245 ETP courses, over 90% of which are at Master’s level. This is a 72% increase with respect to the previous year and is remarkable if we consider the slow pace with which change generally occurs not only in Italian academia (De Wit/Hunter/Howard/Egron- Polak 2015), but in academia in general (European Commission 2013).

Much attention has been drawn to the case of the Politecnico di Milano whose decision in 2011 to have all of its Master’s degrees and PhD courses taught in English was challenged at the Regional Administrative Tribunal (TAR) by a group of the University’s professors (see Costa this volume). The ongoing case has been widely discussed in the local, national3 and international media such as the BBC and New York Times4, in academia (Dearden 2014; Jenkins 2014), by Italy’s language academy Accademia della Crusca5 (see Motta, this volume) and also at a political level. The case of the Politecnico, however, is in many ways an exception, since it is the only public university which has sought to transform all of its Master’s degree courses from Italian to English. Most other universities have a relatively small – but growing – percentage of their second cycle degree courses in English. Recent studies (Campagna/Pulcini 2014; Pulcini 2015) are also showing that ← 14 | 15 → many lecturers are not hostile to English-medium instruction if it does not become compulsory or threaten to take over all university courses.

The student population in Italy may not appear very international in comparison to other European countries such as the UK, Germany and France, but the OECD (2014) report indicated Italy as a new player on the international education landscape, as it currently hosts 2% of the global foreign student population. Italy is also one of the top senders and receivers of Erasmus students in Europe and the number is on the increase. The desire to attract more international students is one of the driving forces of EMI in Italy, particularly from the top-down institutional perspective, but currently the student population for EMI courses is still mainly Italian.

There is as yet a small body of research on EMI in Italy, but interest is growing rapidly and an increasing number of Italian and international scholars are studying the developments. The first large-scale study on the Italian context was Costa and Coleman’s (2013) survey which obtained a response from 50% of Italian universities. This study shed light on the main issues that characterized EMI in Italy, for instance the drivers of EMI, the (lack of) training and/or linguistic support for lecturers and a general lack of importance given to language issues. Other smaller-scale studies have looked at the implementation of EMI and/or CLIL in higher education, attitudes of teaching staff and/or students (Argondizzo/de Bartolo/Ting 2007; Costa 2013; Costa/Mariotti forthcoming; Helm/Guarda 2015), aspects of language and meaning making in EMI lectures (Costa 2012; Francomacaro 2011; Gotti 2015) and the professional development of lecturers (Ackerley/Clark/Dalziel/Guarda 2016; Guarda/Helm 2016).

2.   This volume

This volume is fruit of a project which was carried out at the University of Padova in 2013–2014 through the collaboration of the University Language Centre, the International Relations Office and lecturers at ← 15 | 16 → the University of Padova. The LEAP project, as Dalziel (this volume) explains, entailed the design and delivery of professional development for university lecturers engaged in English-medium instruction. Funding received from International Relations allowed this project to also become a research project, with a research assistant supporting the needs analysis, design and evaluation of the professional development courses. The funding allowed us to organise seminars for the researchers, trainers and lecturers involved in the project with invited speakers whose expertise we felt was relevant and could add value to the project. Amongst these experts were Bob Wilkinson and Francesca Costa who have contributed the opening chapters to this volume.

What is the relevance of this area of research beyond the national context? We believe the Italian context may be of interest to EMI and internationalisation researchers and practitioners working in countries which bear some similarities to Italy in terms of the role of English in the broader society, such as Spain (Lasagabaster 2016); in terms of the student and lecturer population; in terms of ambivalent attitudes and also the ‘stage of development’ of EMI. We feel it is important to engage in research and dialogue on this important part of the ‘internationalisation process’ of universities with multiple stakeholders in order to raise awareness of the many issues involved and to ensure that it is not a top down process driven solely by economic and market forces. We hope that this is a step towards the fostering of a critical approach towards the introduction of EMI which can be seen as a pharmakon6, a possible remedy for the inward looking and idiosyncratic workings of many higher education institutions but also a potential poison for the rich, plurilingual thinking and knowledges of Italian and other non- Anglophone scholars. ← 16 | 17 →

3.   A learning ecology

This volume takes what could be described as an ecological approach, drawing on ‘ecology of language’ approaches and also the concept of learning ecology. According to Haugen (1972: 325 in Hornberger/Hult 2008), the ecology of language regards a language’s “interaction with other languages in the minds of bi- and multilingual speakers” as well as “its interaction with the society in which it functions as a medium of communication”. Conceptually this approach looks at social, historical, sociolinguistic, and political forces at individual, community and societal levels. Key players and triggers of change in ecologies of language are individual speakers and their behaviours (for example learning and using or not using a dominant language) and ‘government’ actions related to language policy, education, literacy and media (Calvet 1999 in Hornberger/Hult 2008).

The concept of learning ecology also includes the agency of individuals – that is the ‘cognitive reflexivity’ of the learning ecology:

[t]he learning ecology collectively and individually thinks about itself and its habits. Individuals represent themselves and the ecology (as they see it). They actively create, modify and destroy territories and niches (learning spaces in every sense). They arrange instruments for monitoring and assessing. They create targets and cyclic patterns (for example, the three year undergraduate degree). They have doubts, fears, and sometimes paranoias. They are unsatisfied and curious. They contend, create, experiment, choose, and self-modify7.

By bringing together the multiple voices of the various ‘species’ and their different ‘niches’ which co-exist within the University, this volume seeks to make public some of the cognitive reflexivity within it. In order to zoom in on the specific learning ecology, this study will start with a bird’s eye view of English-medium instruction (EMI) in the broader ecosystem of Europe and subsequently narrow down to the national context, Italy. We are aware that this entails a necessarily Eurocentric, and hence limited perspective, but we felt that it was beyond the scope of this volume to also attempt to offer a ‘global’ perspective. ← 17 | 18 →

We then focus our attention on a single university, the University of Padova, a large state university in the north-east of Italy which has over 60,000 students, and just over 2000 tenured professors. The bulk of the volume is dedicated to this microcosm, whose ecology we seek to describe not merely from the etic view of the researchers but also from an emic view, with contributions from the stakeholders themselves: lecturers, language teaching and administrative staff. In this way we seek to present multiple perspectives on the same issue.

4.   Terminological choice


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (March)
Internationalism English-Medium Instruction Multilingualism
Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Warszasa, Wien, 2017. 308 pp., 11 b/w graphs, 4 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Katherine Ackerley (Volume editor) Marta Guarda (Volume editor) Francesca Helm (Volume editor)

Katherine Ackerley is Assistant Professor of English Language and Translation at the University of Padova. Her research interests include applied corpus linguistics and EMI. Marta Guarda is an assistant researcher at the University of Padova Language Centre. Her research interests include EMI and online language and intercultural learning. Francesca Helm is Assistant Professor of English Language and Translation at the University of Padova. Her research interests include EMI and the use of technology in language learning and for internationalization.


Title: Sharing Perspectives on English-Medium Instruction
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328 pages