Purpose and Scope of the Seminar Series

Despite an established body of knowledge on linguistic diversity and bi/multilingual learners in compulsory and complementary schooling, there is little established knowledge on linguistic diversity in the HE sector in ED and EMI settings.

Among the key aims of the seminar series is to develop a research agenda for examining the impact of linguistic diversity in HE in ED and EMI settings and to illuminate the idea of the ‘multilingual university’ in these contexts. It intends to establish a forum for examining bi/multilingualism in the HE sector and produce resources on this topic that will inform HE policies that create the conditions for linguistic diversity, in particular HE agendas on internationalisation, widening participation and language revitalisation. This will enable the sector to treat the linguistic diversity embodied in its bi/ multilingual staff and student population as a resource for enriching the sector and for promoting a vibrant and fair society.

The six-part seminar series is funded by the Economic Social Research Council.


Participants and Audience 

The seminar encompasses two main sets of professional staff and policy makers. The first focuses on those concerned with the planning, delivery and support of English language, academic skills and writing programmes and other support services for members of the HE population in ED and EMI settings who use English as a second, foreign or additional language. We invite English language tutors, academic support tutors, a range of professional staff involved in internationalisation activities or in access and widening participation in both the HE and FE sectors.

The second focuses on those concerned with the planning, delivery and support of HE programmes in ED settings for the education and training of bi/multilingual professionals working with indigenous and community language users in the Anglophone world. We invite professional developers involved in the education and training of professionals for whom bi/multilingual use of community or minority languages in ED settings is essential for professional development, such as translators and interpreters, teachers of minority and community languages, journalists, media workers, health and social care workers serving linguistic minority communities.

The Premise for Developing the ‘Multilingual University’

In recent decades, higher education (HE) has expanded rapidly as universities have responded to operating in a globalised world. This is illustrated in UNESCO reports that show that the number of students in post 16 education worldwide rose fivefold to 150.6 million between 1970 and 2007 (UNESCO 2009); this trend looks set to continue. One major impact of the expansion of HE in English-dominant (ED) settings and in universities offering English medium instruction (EMI) elsewhere has been an increase in the cultural and linguistic diversity of the staff and student population.

There are two key groups contributing to this increased linguistic and cultural diversity. One is composed of mobile students and faculty; these are international students, academic and research staff attracted to work and study in ED settings or in universities offering EMI. Many are bi/ multilingual users of English with high levels of proficiency in at least two languages: their mother tongue and English. The other is composed of widening participation students, that is groups of home students who have traditionally been underrepresented in HE in ED settings but who have been encouraged to enter the sector through government policies.

In the UK, for example, this has resulted in increasing numbers of bi/ multilingual university students from working class migrant communities. Most are bi/ multilingual in that they routinely experience their lives in the heritage language(s) of their families and English. Generally speaking, these students have received little formal schooling in their heritage language(s) and normally have much higher proficiency in English than their heritage language(s). This situation is mirrored to a greater or lesser extent in other ED settings, such as the United States.

These factors mean that there are now many more bi/multilingual users of English in the sector than was previously the case. On some university programmes in the UK, for example, it has become common for bi/multilingual users of English to outnumber their monolingual English-speaking counterparts. A parallel issue impacting on linguistic diversity in the sector is the revitalisation agenda for ‘indigenous’ languages in ED settings, that is minority languages that have been traditionally associated with particular geographical regions, such as Welsh in Wales, Gaelic in Scotland, Maori in New Zealand, and various ‘aboriginal’ or ‘native’ languages in Australia, the US and Canada. Research to date indicates that universities in ED settings have been slow to acknowledge the bi/multilingualism in their midst, to value the linguistic diversity of their bi/multilingual staff and student population, or to regard this diversity as a resource. Instead, the dominant institutional approach to linguistic diversity has been to treat it as a problem that needs solving. This deficit model characterises bi/multilingual users of English as in need of English language remediation and  ignores or stigmatises bi/multilingual language resources. As EMI programmes and institutions proliferate in the non-Anglophone world, there is a danger that these Anglo-centric attitudes to linguistic diversity will be reproduced in EMI contexts.

This seminar series is designed to bring together key scholars, researchers and speakers from different sectors to further thinking and development in the aforementioned areas. Each of the six seminars will further explore the issues raised through a series of lectures and interactive sessions.

Please click here for further information about the seminars and to register for the upcoming events.