Diane Schmitt

The language paradox in international education

A recent article in the Times Higher Education Supplement (2016) highlights the importance of a university being international when it comes to ranking the world’s top universities. In the methodology used by the THES an ‘international university’ is one with a high proportion of international students, international staff and research published with an international co-author. Achieving the first two of these criteria relies on easy mobility of students and staff across national borders. In the UK and elsewhere, ease of mobility runs up against government policies and public attitudes to immigration. In order to counter the negative impact on student mobility of such policies and attitudes, universities and other bodies put forward evidence of the economic benefits of international students to the local and national economy.[i] This evidence, in turn, lends support to the argument that the internationalisation of universities is increasingly linked with economic competitiveness, reputation and human capital. (Tsiligiri, 2012 citing Knight, 2011). With students in international universities increasingly being reduced to performance indicators and commodities, it is important to consider the effect this has on their recruitment and the positioning of internationally mobile students within the wider student body. In this presentation, I will consider the role of language in this positioning and present a paradox whereby language looms too large in the practice of recruiting and admitting international students while at the same time lack of attention to language threatens the quality of the university experience and the value of university degrees for all students. In doing so, I will talk about pre- and post-enrollment language tests, the provision of support for internationally mobile students and where language might sit in relation to the expected learning outcomes or attributes of university graduates from an English for Academic Purposes perspective.

[i] Oxford Economics (2013). The Economic Costs and Benefits of International Students – A report for the University of Sheffield. Oxford: Oxford Economics (accessed 8 May, 2016 http://www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.259052!/file/sheffield-international-students-report.pdf)


Bothwell, E. (2016, January 14). The world’s most international universities 2016. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/200-most-international-universities-world-2016

Tsiligiri, V. (2012, June 25). What’s wrong with internationalisation of higher education? It’s the language stupid! Anglohigher. Retrieved from: http://www.anglohigher.com/casestudies/casestudy_detail/57/39