Skip to main content

Book Review of ‘English-Medium Instruction Practices in Higher Education International Perspectives’


Joanne Shiel, SWJTU-Leeds Joint School, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Leeds  

Book Review of: McKinley, J. and Galloway, G. eds. 2022. ‘English Medium Instruction Practices in Higher Education: International Perspectives’. Bloomsbury. eBook. £68.89. ISBN:HB 978-1-3501-6785-8 

KEYWORDS: EMI, internationalisation, language, bilingual, multilingualism 



Purpose and audience 
English Medium Instruction Practices in Higher Education: International Perspectives is one of a number of books published by Bloomsbury on the topic of English Medium Instruction (EMI) and its implications. It explores EMI policy implementation and practices in a wide range of global contexts and from three different perspectives – the macro, meso and micro levels. The division of the book into these three sections means that EMI is examined from broadly the national, the institutional and the classroom viewpoint. 

This volume will therefore be of interest to educational policy makers at both the national and institutional level, as well as other researchers and practitioners in the field of EMI. While all the authors are working in the field of applied linguistics, as is mentioned in the Introduction and is acknowledged as common in the field (Macaro, 2022), McKinley and Galloway express the hope that the book will spark more interdisciplinary research. My feeling is that it is sufficiently accessible to non-linguists for this to be the case and that it would also be of value to both linguistic and content practitioners as well. Its value, though, for practitioners would be mostly in setting the context for their endeavours, rather than providing a blueprint for their practice. From my personal experience, as a practitioner on the boundary between EAP and content specialists in a transnational collaboration, I would suggest that the most likely content specialist readers would be the ones already involved in pedagogical research and/or collaboration with language specialists.  

Aims and Structure 
The Introduction to this volume sets out very clearly what the book is about and the gaps it hopes to fill. One key aim is to extend the global reach of the research, as EMI implementation is not uniform across the world. It certainly succeeds in this aim, adding ten places which had not previously been investigated, according to Macaro et al.’s State of the Art article in 2018 – namely Mexico, Brazil, Kuwait, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tunisia, Estonia, Poland, the South Caucasus and Nepal. This wide range exemplifies very well the huge diversity of situations in which EMI is used and deals with some areas, as McKinley and Galloway point out (p.6), which hitherto have been underexplored, such as Ethiopia and Nepal. 

Another aim is to redress the perceived imbalance between the different levels of research into EMI, giving an equal examination of macro (national and regional), meso (institutional) and micro (classroom) implementation in different contexts. The division of the volume into three separate sections about each level of implementation, each containing seven chapters about different countries or regions, ensures that there is parallel amount of treatment of the different perspectives.  

The editors do mention that there are ‘some commonalities in policy implementation’ within the chapters, but state that ‘the chapters mostly provide an in-depth understanding’ of different contexts ‘showcasing how EMI practices vary widely’ (p.4) and giving an insight into context-specific issues. To give a brief overview of the content of the volume, some chapters deal with the educational, social and sociocultural consequences of EMI in diverse contexts such as Bangladesh, Estonia and South Africa and raise questions about the appropriateness of its adoption and potential injustices in Ethiopia, Nepal, Colombia and Tunisia. Other chapters focus on the driving forces behind EMI and the way policy towards EMI has been approached in, for example, China, Poland, Vietnam and Austria. Other chapters explore the student and staff experience of EMI in contexts including Japan, Italy, Mexico and Turkey. 


The Introduction
The Introduction to the volume gives an excellent overview of all the chapters and the main themes they each cover, so I would recommend that this be read carefully, as otherwise the over-arching themes might be lost within the detail of the different contexts. I found it helpful, too, within different chapters, when other chapters in the book were referred to, such as the links in Chapter 18 about Kuwait to other similar contexts, such as Ethiopia (p.228).  

Chapter commonalities and key themes 
For the purposes of this review, rather than repeat the treatment of the chapters separately as the editors do so well in the introduction, I thought it would be useful to draw out the commonalities and review these chapters according to their treatment of certain key themes.  

Driving forces behind EMI 
Internationalisation in a general sense is mentioned in almost every chapter as a motive or reason for the introduction and spread of EMI. However, the nature of internationalisation as a driver for EMI varies. In some cases, such as China, described in Chapter 3, internationalisation is part of a government move to make universities more competitive in global research and to attract international students, as well as a means to retain to home students. This desire to restrict the outflow of home students is seen in many other contexts, such as Ethiopia in Chapter 5.  

Another driver towards EMI is the commodification of higher education, with the need for universities themselves to embrace EMI in order to compete in a global market. This concept permeates many of the chapters and is mentioned specifically in the case of Austria (Chapter 8), Tunisia (Chapter 21) and Nepal (Chapter 6). In some situations, however, the move towards EMI has been part of a drive towards more general educational reform, which seems to have been the case in Denmark (Chapter 4) and Vietnam (Chapter 14). 

Although EMI is widely regarded as overwhelmingly a ‘top-down’ phenomenon in terms of national and institutional policy, this volume does show that there is support for it amongst lecturers and students. In Brazil (Chapter 2) individual lecturers are trying out the idea of the EMI, to give their students the benefit of an international education ‘at home’ and the studies on Japan (Chapter 17) and Azerbaijan (Chapter 15) suggest that there is a groundswell of opinion amongst students and in society that English is useful as a skill to offer in the global job market. This expectation that EMI will improve the students’ level of English is indeed common, particularly in Asian countries as Chin and Li (2021) discuss in their chapter on EMI models in Chinese-speaking contexts. 

Tensions caused by the adoption of EMI 
A key thread running through the chapters of this book is that the choice of language as the medium of instruction is not value-free. English may be adopted or resisted because of links with a colonial past (as discussed in Chapter 1 about Bangladesh) or countries may opt for a ‘quasi-colonialism’ in adopting English, as argued in Chapter 6 about Nepal. The decision can cause both social and political tensions. Hamid and Amin’s study of EMI policy in Bangladesh (Chapter 1) explains that both Bangla and English exist in public and private universities, but in the former Bangla is dominant and in the latter it is English. Hamid and Amin make the point that EMI is not a ‘neutral’ policy, perpetuating social divisions amongst the student population. 

Christa van der Walt’s (Chapter 13) notion of languages taking up ‘space’ and therefore excluding others was an interesting explanation about why there is such conflict about the use of one language or the other. In South Africa, a key debate seems to be about whether English or Afrikaans should be the language of instruction. This in itself is problematic because it ignores the avowed aim of the Language Policy Framework to foster African languages in the education system. But then van der Walt argues that even if African languages were included, it would be difficult to know which ones were appropriate in which area, given a plurilingual society and student mobility to different geographical areas. 

The growth of EMI has fuelled the polarisation of languages in Estonia (Chapter 10) with tensions between the ‘internationalist and culturalist’ positions (Hultgren et al. 2014) amid concerns about effect on Estonian as a language if English is adopted exclusively. This same polarisation and debate are seen in Holland (Chapter 20) and Bangladesh (Chapter 1). 

My favourite chapter was Chapter 21 about Tunisia because it so succinctly highlighted both the ideological tensions and the practical pedagogical issues involved, which I will discuss below. Basically globalisation has brought international competition to education and the ‘linguistic tax’ is the use of English, with all its ‘colonial history, ideological hegemony, economic power, political authority and social dominance’ (Badwan, p.265) The students have to study in Arabic at primary school, French at secondary level and then French and possibly English at tertiary level. Not surprisingly, the EMI lecturers interviewed for this study were concerned about the use of English in terms of its suitability, the students’ readiness for the challenge and the effect on national identity.  

Potential pedagogical problems caused by EMI 
It is well-documented in the literature that the adoption of EMI has pedagogical implications. Joyce Shao Chin and Naihsin Li (2021) identify several key issues related to the use of EMI, namely the students’ proficiency in English, or lack of it, and the effect this has on their learning, the staff’s ability to teach in English and the use of other languages in the classroom. This volume deals with all these issues to some extent and the studies highlight solutions which have been employed in the various contexts. 

A lack of proficiency in English on the part of the students means that there is a danger they would not be able to study the required content effectively and their lack of language would compromise their subject learning and their ability to express their understanding of the content. Lei and Hu (2014) make the point that a threshold level of English proficiency is needed to start an EMI course, but even then, as Evans and Morrison (2011), mention this does not guarantee an ability to communicate discipline specific content. 

One solution to this issue is to support the students and improve their language proficiency. Although this volume does not discuss EAP preparatory programmes in great detail, Chapter 7 describes preparatory programmes in Turkey and Chapter 19 focuses on pre-sessional language courses for students in Mexico. Unlike other pre-sessional courses, there seems not to be an entry requirement for these, and it seems that in the Mexico case study intermediate level students benefited most. Otherwise, it seems that in many places, students are tested but have to reach the required level themselves, not necessarily through the school system, thereby perpetuating social divisions (Badwan, Chapter 21). 

However, despite student lack of language proficiency seemingly being an obvious barrier to success, this does not appear to be an issue from the students’ perspective. In the chapters about Japan (17) and Kuwait (18) students do seem to struggle with their EMI courses, yet they do not necessarily equate this with a lack of academic success. As Thompson, Curle, and Aizawa (Chapter 17) suggest, maybe the criteria for ‘student success’ need to be re-examined. In Turkey (Chapter 7), student performance in the TMI classes is a good predictor of success in the EMI ones, suggesting that perhaps other factors than just language play a significant role. This is certainly my experience. 

Lack of English proficiency/pedagogical ability on the part of staff
Many studies identify the English proficiency of staff and their ability to teach in English as potential problems (Macaro, 2022; Lily I-Wenn Su, Hintat Cheung, Jessica Wu, 2021). A low level of English can mean staff stick closely to their lecture script (Wilkinson, 2005) and struggle to explain concepts clearly. One solution to this issue is staff training and support. This is mentioned in several of the chapters, with a plea for support not to be imposed from above, but for the opinions of the stakeholders to be considered. This is the focus of Chapter 11 about EMI training in Italy, which was based on an in-depth analysis of lecturers’ perceived needs.  

Use of languages other than English
A third key solution to the issues EMI may cause for both staff and students is the use of other languages, both in the institution or programme or in the classroom itself. In many national and institutional contexts, EMI is not presented as the only route for either the staff or the students. The studies by Tong et al. (2020) and Rose et al. (2020) mentioned in Chapter 2 about China both point to the fact that in many contexts, in practice English was not used as exclusively as the institutional policy suggested, with some studies reporting that almost all lecturers felt that some use of Chinese was necessary, depending on the language proficiency of the students. Sahan explains in Chapter 7 how Turkey has adopted a partial model of EMI, in that students can opt to do some of their courses in English (30%) and some in Turkish, although it was interesting that the policy stipulates only one language at a time.  

The last potential solution to problems that EMI can cause which is discussed in this book is the promotion of the use of other languages in addition to English within the classroom itself. This concept permeates most of the chapters in the book. So, one solution to the split between public and private universities and the elitism of EMI in Bangladesh, would be the use of both Bangla and English, with staff and students moving between ‘linguistic territories’. Chapter 16 examines translanguaging in the ESP classroom in Hong Kong and gives the reader the most practical example of how this could work. ‘Code-switching’ seems to happen in many EMI situations – why not allow and even encourage it, as students in Kuwait would like?  

One answer to this question is the presence of international students who may not be able to ‘code switch’ and as Chapter 9 on Colombia and Chapter 13 on South Africa point out it might be difficult in multilingual and linguistically diverse contexts to decide which other languages to allow or promote. Another issue is that of international staff or flying faculty from partner institutions who might not be able to operate bilingually. One solution to this problem that is being considered in Estonia (Chapter 10) is requiring foreign staff to learn the language of the country, but this is likely to cause problems of its own.  

In Chapter 5, Anna Hultgren clarifies the ‘epistemological standpoint’ from which she is writing (p.49) and urges that others should do the same, given the multifaceted nature of EMI research. I think that readers of this book should be aware of their own standpoint and be prepared to go beyond it, if they wish to get the most out of this book. From my position as a practitioner on the boundary between EAP and content specialists who is responsible for implementing top-down policies from the two partner institutions in a transnational collaboration, the temptation would be to read mainly about contexts which appear relevant to my own. Had I not been writing this review, I may not have read every chapter. That, however, would obviously have been my loss as I found interesting elements where I would not have expected to find them from looking at the content page.  

In general, I thought this book was a valuable addition to the field of EMI research, with a broad global reach and exploring areas of the world which have been under-researched. A strong point was the discussion of the use of other languages in addition to English, but I felt that many chapters advocated the use of other languages assuming that all the students and the lecturers shared the same language, so could easily ‘code-switch’, but this is not necessarily the case in many contexts. One context which was not explored was the transnational partnership, which is an area where EMI is widely used. With ‘international’ as well as ‘host country’ staff typically employed, this setting would not necessarily easily lend itself to the use of different languages. 

I found Section 3, the micro-level, slightly disappointing as there was not much detail, except in Chapter 16 about Hong Kong, about actual classroom practice and interaction. The main focus was on the viewpoints of staff and students, which is of course valuable in itself, but there is a need to delve further into how translanguaging and code-switching, for example, could work in practice in both language and content classrooms. 

One avowed aim of this book is to stimulate further EMI research (p.9) using different methods and from an interdisciplinary perspective. I definitely think that it will encourage researchers to think of their context at macro, meso and micro levels. Ideally it would also help those of us at the bottom to influence the decision makers a little by being able to point to research from different angles, so that EMI does not remain so top down. However, there is still a need for a more interdisciplinary perspective in the field of EMI research. This is acknowledged by the editors and many of the chapters call for more studies conducted with and by people working in the field. 

Address for correspondence: 


Evans, S. and Morrison, B. 2011. Meeting the challenges of English-Medium higher education: the first-year experience in Hong Kong. English for Specific Purposes. 30(3), pp.198-208.  

Hultgren, A. 2014. English language use at the internationalised universities of Northern Europe: Is there a correlation between Englishisation and world rank?. Multilingua: Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication. 33(304), pp.389-408.  

Lei, J. and Hu, G. 2014. English Medium Instruction in Chinese Higher Education: A Case study. Higher Education. 67(5), pp.551-567. 

Macaro, E., Curle, S., Pun, J., An, J. and Dearden, J. 2018. A systematic Review of English Medium Instruction in Higher Education. Language Teaching, 51(1), pp.36-76.  

Macaro, E. and Aizawa, I. 2022. Who owns English medium instruction?. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 

Su, L.I., Cheung, H. and Wu, J. eds. 2021. Rethinking EMI Multidisciplinary Perspectives from Chinese Speaking Regions. London: Routledge. 

Wilkinson, R. 2005. The impact of language on teaching content: views from the content teacher. Conference on bi and multilingual universities: Challenges and future prospects, 1-3 September, Helsinki, Sweden.