Implementing English-Taught Programmes in Higher Education in Spain: The Case of the University of Córdoba

Implementing English-Taught Programmes in Higher Education in Spain: The Case of the University of Córdoba

Victor Pavón-Vázquez (University of Córdoba, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3266-9.ch008


The acceptance of English as the lingua franca of the academic world has triggered the flourishing of different approaches to promote the learning of English as a foreign language in higher education. Under the umbrella of supranational regulations (as in the case of Europe), the promise of linguistic gains runs parallel with the necessity to attract international students, to promote the international and institutional profile for the universities, and to enhance employability for graduates. At the university of Córdoba, studies or courses taught through a foreign language are part of a larger university policy, and the decisions were based on clear definition of content and language learning outcomes and human and material resources available. This chapter describes the implementation of bilingual programs at this university, offering a picture of the challenges and problems that emerged and of the initiatives that were adopted.
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We are currently living in a situation at the tertiary level of education in which the development of the international profile of the universities and, together with that, the desire to provide students with specific skills to work in a globalized work environment, are promoting initiatives aimed to offer studies taught in a foreign language, particularly in English as it is a language that has acquired the status of lingua franca in the scientific-technical field and in that of economics and finance (Coleman, 2006).

The globalization of professional areas demands a series of specific competences of holistic, creative and innovative character. The universities, therefore, are becoming aware that they must provide their students with a deep and accurate knowledge in each of their fields (scientific, technical, social, etc.), but must also provide them with transversal skills, among which multilingual and intercultural communication skills can greatly enrich their academic and professional profile: “Language in Europe is about more than education – it is social, economic and cultural significance” (King et al., 2011:40). These proposals, which could be generically named 'bilingual programs', seek to develop the linguistic competence in English through the increase of content subjects taught in this foreign language, through the implementation of bilingual studies in which part of the curriculum (frequently a 50%) is taught in the mother tongue and part in a foreign language, or even with the design of degrees taught exclusively in this foreign language.

In general, we could say that the objective of providing the students with the necessary linguistic equipment that will allow them to adapt to these global needs has caused and is causing that in all European countries and in many other countries worldwide, universities offer English-medium instruction (EMI) programs or content and language integration programs in higher education (language integrated learning in higher education, ICLHE) (Wilkinson and Zegers, 2008; Hellekjaer and Wilkinson, 2009; Doiz, Lasagabaster and Sierra, 2013; Dimova et al., 2015; Valcke and Wilkinson, 2017; Wilkinson and Walsh, 2015). Spanish universities are fairly aware of the interest aroused in higher education caused by the obligation to adapt to the professional demands of a global market (Dafouz and Núñez, 2009; Ramos, 2013). Particularly in Europe, the number of studies taught in English has increased notably in the past years: “the number of identified English-taught programmes went up from 725 programmes in 2001, to 2,389 in 2007 and to 8,089 in the present study [2014]” (Wächter and Maiworm, 2014:16). In line with this, there has been a flourishing in this country of bilingual education at the tertiary level (Ramos and Pavón, 2018). This new scenario cannot be understood without bearing in mind the supranational policies at the European level and, obviously the national policies and regulations where the Spanish universities are contextualised. Also, the increase of this kind of studies has provoked in some cases the appearance of non-realistic expectations. For example, according to the Spanish Ministry of Education, by the year 2020, one third of all the university studies would be offered in English (Spanish Ministry of Education, 2014).

Throughout this chapter we will review the relevance of a number of key areas for the implementation of bilingual studies, and will present the foundations and characteristics of the particular proposal designed at the University of Córdoba in the Spanish context.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Internationalisation: Internationalising HE is a process by which universities seek to promote quality competences to prepare graduates to a global interconnected society.

ICLHE (Integration of Content and Language in Higher Education): Educational practices similar to EMI but with the difference that lecturers also pay attention to the development of the language during their lessons.

EMI (English-Medium Instruction): Educational practices in which lecturers do their teaching in English as a foreign or additional language, normally in line with university internationalisation policies.

Bolonia Declaration: A document signed in 1999 by 29 countries to reform and coordinate higher education in Europe.

Language Policy: The different initiatives taken by the universities with the purpose of enhancing the use of all the languages present in the curricula of studies.

ESP (English for Specific Purposes): Teaching English to university students, with reference to the particular vocabulary and skills they need.

Lingua Franca: A term used to describe a language that is systematically and effectively used by people with different mother tongues.

English-Taught Programmes: Any kind of programme or course taught through English as a foreign or additional language.

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