Invited Colloquium Chair

Ute Smit

Department of English Studies

University of Vienna (Austria)


Cynthia Tsui, National Cheng Chi University, Taiwan
Phuong L.H. Ngo, Hue University of Foreign Languages, Vietnam
Kumiko Murata & Masakazu Iino, Waseda University, Japan

Title of Colloquium:

Internationalising higher education: English as gateway or gatekeeper to education?


Internationalisation has been one of the most influential phenomena shaping higher education over the last years (Yemini & Sagie 2016). Not only has this process had a lasting influence on the majority of all higher education institutions (HEIs) worldwide, but internationalisation itself has also developed in various ways, resulting in what has been termed ‘internationalisation abroad’, ‘internationalisation at home’ and ‘internationalisation of the curriculum’ (e.g. Knight 2018). In addition to such general trends, it must also not be forgotten that any form of internationalisation of higher education (IoHE) bears a strong local character with each HEI designing and implementing its localised policies and practices.

One strategy considered integral to internationalisation more generally is Englishisation, i.e. the use of English for research, education and administration (Lanvers & Hultgren 2018). Reflecting its unique status in academia, business, technology, but also as first foreign language learnt world-wide, this ever-increasing use of English within HE is generally accepted and widely welcomed, identifying English as the gateway to internationalised education. At the same time, English can also be characterised as fulfilling a gatekeeping function to higher education, narrowing people’s possibilities on various counts, such as the fact that English functions as a precondition for internationalised HE, makes English language proficiency into a criterion of access to these studies, thereby excluding potentially highly skilled and able students. Furthermore, the strong focus on English runs the danger of not recognising the linguacultural diversity that comes with internationalisation, possibly entrenching the ‘monolingual habitus’ of formal education even at times of multilingual learner groups (Smit 2018). Finally, most language policies in HEIs provide little information on how English and other languages should be employed for educational and research purposes, thus favouring a highly normative understanding of WHAT English should be used HOW and usually ignoring the insights gained in 20 years of research into English as a lingua franca and applied linguistics more generally (e.g. Jenkins 2014; Murata & Iino 2018).

Against the background of Englishisation as central element in the internationalisation process, it is the aim of this symposium to critically look at the two-sided and potentially conflictual roles of English as gateway and gatekeeper in HEIs. After an introduction to the topic matter, 3 to 4 contributions will present particular HEI cases, foregrounding the localised language policies and practices and discussing the challenges and potentials linked to the use of English in relation to points of criticism such as those raised above. In a final discussion, all symposium participants will be invited to share their views on the dilemma of English as both facilitating, but also inhibiting HE practices.


Knight, J. (2018). The changing landscape of higher education internationalisation—For better or worse? In D. Law & M. Hoey (Eds.), Perspectives on the internationalisation of higher education (pp. 13–19). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Lanvers, U., & Hultgren, A. K. (2018). The Englishization of European education: Foreword. European Journal of Language Policy, 10(1), 1–11.

Murata, K., & Iino, M. (2018). EMI in higher education: An ELF perspective. In J. Jenkins, W. Baker, & M. Dewey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of English as a lingua franca (pp. 400–412). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Smit, U. (2018). Beyond monolingualism in higher education: A language policy account. In J. Jenkins, W. Baker, & M. Dewey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of English as a lingua franca (pp. 387–399). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Yemini, M., & Sagie, N. (2016). Research on internationalisation in higher education – exploratory analysis. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education 20 (2–3): 90–98.

Brief Bio:

Ute Smit’s main research focus is on English used as a classroom language in various educational settings, by combining micro, meso and macro perspectives. Her publications deal with ELF (English as a lingua franca), CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), EMEMUS (English Medium Education in Multilingual University Settings), teacher beliefs and language policy. Ongoing international projects include ‘EMI in European Higher Education’ (PI Kristina Hultgren; and ‘SHIFT’ (PI Emma Dafouz; She is on the editorial board of the Journal of English Medium Instruction and a board member of the ICLHE (Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education) Association.

Scroll to Top