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Brussels, 30 September 2005

Between Babel and Anglo-Saxon Imperialism? English-Taught Programmes and Language Policy in European Higher Education


English is holding a fairly uncontested position as the most widely used language in international higher education and academic publishing, as well as the media and trade. In line with this trend and in response to an increasingly international and competitive environment, a growing number of universities are now offering programmes taught in English, in countries where English is not the official language. This seems to be in contrast with EU policies promoting diversity and multilingualism, and it is perceived by many European stakeholders as a simple means for universities to generate more income. 

This seminar offered a forum for this debate. It explored and questioned the present and future role of English in higher education in the context of European language policies. Last but not least, it had a look at the practical implications of a higher education which is partly or fully imparted in English. 

Would higher education imparted in English limit one’s ability to express oneself and thus put content on a secondary level? Or are domestic students better off being taught in English, so as to be prepared for further study or work abroad? What are the best practices to be adopted by universities? These and many more questions were debated by some of the most prominent experts in multilingual education, amongst which ACA was proud to count Philippe van Parijs (Université Catholique de Louvain), Luca Tomasi (European Commission),  Bob Wilkinson (University of Maastricht), Hilde de Ridder- Symoens (University of Gent), Claus Gnutzmann (Technische Universität Braunschweig). The “crew” was completed by ACA Director Bernd Wächter.


Thursday 29 September 2005

Welcome dinner

Friday 30 September 2005


9:00 Registration and coffee
9:30 Welcome
English in European higher education: setting the scene
Bernd Wächter, ACA 
10:00 Plenary session:
Yesterday’s news? The language issue in higher education throughout history
Hilde Symoens, University of Ghent 
10:30 Coffee break 

Plenary session
Babel: a curse or a gift? Two positions on language policy in higher education. The triumph of English: a case of linguistic neo-colonisation?
Claus Gnutzmann, Technische Universität Braunschweig

English in European higher education: attractor, loudspeaker, threat
Philippe van Parijs, University of Louvain la Neuve

13:00 Lunch 
14:00 Plenary Session
Diversity above all? The repercussions of EU language policies on higher education
Luca Tomasi, European Commission, Brussels 
14:45 Plenary Session
Taming the beast: institutional strategies for the implementation of English-language-taught programmes
Robert Wilkinson, University of Maastricht
15:30 Coffee break
16:00 Round table discussion
Are we missing the boat? The role of English in higher education 50 years from now 
17:00 End of the seminar


Bernd Wächter

Bernd Wächter is the chief executive officer (Director) of the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA), a European association of 20 nationally based internationalisation agencies. In this capacity, which he has held since 1998, he bears overall responsibility for the implementation of all ACA policy.
Earlier on (1995 – 1997), he was the Head of the Erasmus Department in the then Socrates and Youth TAO, which implemented the centralised parts of the Erasmus Programme on behalf of the European Commission. Between 1992 and 1995, he headed the German national agency for the Erasmus Programme inside the DAAD, which also had important national information functions for the COMETT, LINGUA and TEMPUS schemes. His experience with internationalisation also relates to the institutional level, through his functions as head of the international office of the Fachhochschule Darmstadt, and as a departmental coordinator of international relations at the Gesamthochschule Kassel. He has also worked for the British Council.

Bernd Wächter has published and lectured widely on issues of Europeanisation and internationalisation of higher education. He is the editor of the ACA Papers on International Cooperation in Education.

Hilde de Ridder-Symoens

Born at Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (Brussels) in 1943, Hilde de Ridder-Symoens obtained her Ph.D. in History from the University of Ghent (1969). Her previous posts include research fellow at the National Fund for Scientific Research (Flanders) until 2000, and part time professor in Medieval History at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam from 1986 until 2001. She has been full professor in Early Modern History at the Universiteit Gent (Belgium) since 2001, and long term visiting fellow and/or professor at the Max-Planck Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte (1983), University of Berkeley (1993, 1998) and Merton College, Oxford (1994). She is the current President of the International Commission for the History of Universities.

Her fields of research are European university history and education in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. Hilde has published on the topic of European University History and more specifically on European student mobility 1200-1800 and on social consequences of university education. She is editor of A History of the University in Europe. Volume 1: Universities in the Middle Ages & Volume 2: Universities in Early Modern Europe (1500-1800), general ed. W. Rüegg (Cambridge 1992, 1996).

Claus Gnutzmann

Claus Gnutzmann is Professor of English Language and Applied Linguistics in the English Department of the Technical University of Braunschweig. He has previously held similar posts at the University of Paderborn and the University of Hanover; he was educated at the Universities of Kiel, Stuttgart, University College London and the City University of New York. His main research interests include linguistic and pedagogical grammar, contrastive linguistics and error analysis, as well as the use of English as a world language and its classroom applications. His most recent publication is Claus Gnutzmann/Frauke Intemann (eds.) The Globalisation of English and the English Language Classroom. Tübingen: Narr 2005.

Philippe van Parijs

Renowned for his ideas and contributions towards the debate on the redesign of the contemporary modern state, Philippe van Parijs holds a DPhil in Philosophy from Oxford University and a doctorate in the social sciences from the University of Louvain (Belgium), where he has been directing the Hoover Chair in Economic and Social Ethics since its creation in 1991. He is currently also a Visiting Professor at Harvard’s philosophy department.

He is also the secretary of the Basic Income European Network (BIEN), a network of academics and activists interested in the idea of a universal basic income, the right to which is based on citizenship and not on a means test or work requirement.

His research interests include theories of justice, the reshaping of welfare states, the challenges arising from cultural and especially linguistic diversity, and the future of democracy. His idea of a ‘linguistic tax’ suggests that countries whose language has been picked up as the worldwide lingua franca should pay to subsidise its learning in all other countries.

Amongst Philippe’s many publications are Evolutionary Explanation in the Social Sciences (1981), Qu’est-ce qu’une société juste ? (1991), Marxism Recycled (1993), Real Freedom for All (1995), Refonder la solidarité (1996) and What’s Wrong with a Free Lunch? (2001). He is currently completing a book on Linguistic Justice to be published by Oxford University Press.

Luca Tomasi

Born in Trento (Italy) in 1955, Luca Tomasi got a degree in foreign languages and literature and a PhD in English literature from the universities of Milan and Genoa. Besides, he also obtained a diploma in finance and international credit from the Bocconi University in Milan. Before taking his post at the European Commission in 1990, he worked as a free-lance translator, he was a lecturer of Italian at Oxford University, and taught English at the IULM University in Milan. Luca has also published several articles and essays on Caribbean literature.

Since 2002 he has been working at the Directorate General for Education and Culture at the European Commission, in the multilingualism policy unit, where he is currently coordinating a group of experts from 29 countries who are promoting the improvement of language learning within the framework of the Lisbon strategy.

Robert Wilkinson

Bob Wilkinson has been teaching English for specific purposes (ESP) since the early 1970s, working both in the academic world and in business. Since the mid-1980s he has been closely concerned with the implementation of English-medium education at Maastricht University, in particular with the integration of content and language. He has worked in France, Slovakia, Scotland and the Netherlands, and run courses and workshops in many European countries. A graduate of the universities of Ulster and Edinburgh, he works at the Language Centre at Maastricht University. In 2003 he organised the first European conference on Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education, with a follow-up conference in 2006. Research interests include learning methodology, the relationship between content and language, and scientific writing expertise.

Amongst his most recent publications:

Van Leeuwen, C., & Wilkinson, R. (eds.) (2003). Multilingual Approaches in University Education: Challenges and Practices. Nijmegen: Valkhof Pers/Talencentrum Universiteit Maastricht.
Wilkinson, R. (ed.). (2004). Integrating Content and Language: Meeting the Challenge of a Multilingual Higher Education. Maastricht: Maastricht University Press.
Wilkinson, R. (2005). Where is English taking universities? Guardian Weekly, 18 March.


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