Study finds little reality in English horror stories

January 10, 2003

A new survey has dispelled the myth that English-taught degree courses in countries where English is a second language are dogged by poor language skills among students and professors.

The Brussels-based Academic Cooperation Association assessed the spread of courses with at least 25 per cent of tuition in English across the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (except Ireland, the UK, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein), and four Eastern European countries.

It found that it "cannot confirm the horror scenarios sometimes evoked according to which the quality of teaching and learning is seriously hampered by grave difficulties on both sides", and that "students' command of English is, in most cases, sufficient".

This does not mean that there are no difficulties. "Communication in English for most students requires an extra effort", the ACA study found. It also pointed out that, "the fact that the overall mastery is viewed to be sufficient does not mean that teaching in English is in all cases absolutely problem-free".

English-taught programmes represented only 2-4 per cent of courses and less than 1 per cent of all students at the 30 per cent of 1,558 universities and colleges offering one course or more. More than 90 per cent were created after 1990, and they have now spread to most disciplines.

Bernd Wachter, director of the ACA, said: "For the time being, English-taught degree programmes are unlikely to impact more than marginally on the international student recruitment efforts of UK and Irish universitiesI This may change, however, if the speed of creation of such programmes keeps up."

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