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New research funding to explore why European universities are teaching in English

Dr Kristina Hultgren, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Applied Linguistics, has been awarded a prestigious UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship for over £1.1mn to explore why the use of English as a teaching language in non-English-speaking European countries is increasing, despite students struggling to understand it.

The Future Leaders Fellowships is a highly competitive scheme, funded by UKRI, which supports the next generation of researchers to pursue ambitious and adventurous research programmes on truly challenging questions.

English as a medium of instruction

Dr Hultgren said: “Research into the use of English in teaching has shown that in the past few decades, higher education institutions in non-Anglophone Europe have seen a dramatic increase by more than 1,000% in English-taught programmes.”

“The question my research will pose is, why do countries suddenly decide to change the language of their educational system from students' home language, whether French, Dutch or something else, to one that students know less well, despite knowing that many students will have difficulty understanding what is being taught.”

Dr Hultgren’s team will be seeking to create policy change in European higher education to ensure that programmes delivered in English do not have an adverse effect on nations, institutions and individuals. Starting in the 2020/2021 academic year, they will be working with key stakeholders, including the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, the European Students’ Union, the British Council and ACA, a non-governmental organisation based in Brussels that seeks to promote the internationalisation of higher education.

A first for UKRI and the OU

Ordinarily, this type of award is made to researchers in medical, natural and technical sciences. Awards are much rarer in the social and human sciences. This is the first time ever a sociolinguistic project has been funded under this scheme and the first time that the OU has received a UKRI fellowship.

Dr Hultgren said: “I am particularly proud that the UKRI have recognised the value of a sociolinguistic project and hope that this won’t be the last time sociolinguists show that our work too is deserving of substantial funding. I am also delighted that the UKRI have appreciated the unique offerings of the OU in choosing to support this project.”

Kristina will be building an interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral team to work across the disciplines of linguistics and political science, to arrive at a deeper understanding of why universities in Europe and beyond increasingly offer their courses in English.  The project will create several new jobs - three full-time postdoctoral researchers and two PhD students, working with Kristina and her team at the OU, and further six part-time posts to be held by collaborators across Europe.

The project has been granted more than £1.1mn for the first four years of the seven-year project. At the end of this time, there will be a review, with funding for the remainder of the project to be granted.


Find out more about Kristina’s research:

For more information about the English as Medium of Instruction project, visit the OU Research website.

Find out more:

Read about UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowship programme

Read more about OU Research in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Languages

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