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Required EMI proving a handicap for students and teachers in Asia

English medium instruction may be helping Asian universities improve their rankings, but students and professors alike say it’s not always an improvement to learning and teaching methods.

Hanyang University in South Korea offered 466 EMI courses in 2014. Photo: Piotrus

"These policies are demoralising for those who do not teach EMI"

This was a topic of discussion among Asian university representatives at a session during the European Association for International Education conference (#EAIE2015) held last week in Glasgow.

Hosted by professors at Hanyang University in South Korea and Feng Chia University in Taiwan, the session explored the idea that although EMI courses carry many benefits for students, they do present challenges, particularly if the courses are made mandatory.

“You can speak the language, it doesn’t mean you can teach in it”

Among teachers, insufficient English proficiency or training to teach a class was one of the most common challenges. Senior professors especially are more reluctant to teach EMI classes, leaving it to junior professors who can sometimes take on the responsibility, session leaders said.

“You can speak the language, it doesn’t mean you can teach in it. It’s two different things,” said Kun-Liang Chuang, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Feng Chia University in Taiwan.

According to Chuang, often professors are offered incentives to undertake the EMI courses, including a reduced number of courses to teach per semester, and a pay rise.

However, he said this is not beneficial for everyone. “These policies are demoralising for those who do not teach EMI,” he said in the session. “They feel they are inferior.”

EMI teachers voiced further criticism saying it takes “more time to prepare for the class”, and “I have to change my teaching style and encourage students to talk more in the class”.

Chuang carried out a study with eight professors and 30 students on EMI courses, and found that students with an already good command of the English language benefited the most from these courses.

“High school students or the parents look at the rankings which are probably very important in the reason for their application for the universities”

However, complaints from the students centered on poorer communication with professors: “There is no in-depth communication between professors and students”, said one respondent, and “Professor’s English pronunciation is so poor that I have problems following his teaching” said another.

It was also pointed out that students are more willing to learn under English-medium instruction if the courses are on offer rather than being a requirement.

An example was drawn at Chiao Tung University in Taiwan where students can elect to take EMI courses, making them not compulsory.

“They become more devoted, they have passion and the teachers can teach with enthusiasm and all the students are enthusiastic,” said Chuang. “So this is a win-win result.”

The number of EMI courses is increasing globally. A recent British Council report acknowledged there “appears to be a fast-moving worldwide shift, in non-anglophone countries, from English being taught as a foreign language (EFL) to English being the medium of instruction (EMI).”

At Hanyang University the shift is palpable: in 2004 there were 49 EMI courses and last year the number had rocketed to 466.

Ki-Jeong Lee, vice president for international affairs at Hanyang University, said the ratio of EMI courses to non-EMI courses plays a part in measuring a university’s degree of internationalisation and could bring in more government funding.

As part of its campaign to increase internationalisation, the Korean government began providing funding for universities offering EMI in 2011, in a bid to improve universities’ positions on global rankings.

“The degree of internationalisation is publicised by very popular media in Korea,” Lee told The PIE News. “So for example, high school students or the parents look at the rankings which are probably very important in the reason for their application for the universities.”

And with the increase in EMI at home universities in the region, there is the idea that “if you can learn EMI at home, why should you go abroad,” Chuang commented.

“That’s one argument, but it’s still different, you physically go abroad. There’s still different courses and the dream of going abroad,” he said.

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