Internationalization as Englishization


Graduating students at Anadolu University (Source: Anadolu University)

Graduating students at Anadolu University (Source: Anadolu University)

The process of internationalization of education has been a pivotal issue across the world, in particular with regards to the higher education sector where internationalization is enacted most visibly and intensively. Within this process, the practices and policies of institutions lay so much emphasis on the incontestable role English plays, or more precisely, the role assigned to English, that it is not surprising to encounter the use of the term ‘internationalization’ with reference to the implementation of English as the language of tuition, particularly in non-Anglo tertiary education institutions.

In the following, I will focus my arguments on the dominant ideology that underpins the beliefs of students, the key stakeholders of higher education institutions, in relation to English and the concept of internationalization. In doing so, I will draw on my PhD study, which attempts to empirically explore perceptions of non-language major Turkish students and lecturers with regard to the notion of the ‘E’ in EMI (English-medium instruction only), with illustrative extracts taken from my own interview dataset with students.

Firstly, I would like to take issue with the widespread belief held by students that without English it is impossible to be international. According to this ideology, students consider English to be the vehicle that internationalizes their universities. Among the students I interviewed, many made statements which exemplify the perception that the choice of English as the language of instruction is the primary catalyst through which a university becomes international.

The following are some of the responses from students to the question of what role English plays in making their institution international:

Boğaziçi Üniversitesinde eğitim dili olarak İngilizce kullanılmasaydı, üniversite uluslararası olamazdı. Bu konuda çok netim.

Had English not been used in Bogazici University, it would not be international. I am quite convinced of this. (Female student of International Relations)

Bir üniversiteyi uluslararası yapan faktörler arasında en önemlisi İngilizcenin eğitim dili olarak kullanılıyor olmasıdır.

Among the factors that make a university international, the most important one is the use of English as the language of instruction. (Male student of International Relations)

Herşeyden önce, Bilkent üniversitesini bu derece popüler yapan başlıca etken İngilizce ile eğitim veriyor olmasıdır

In the first place, the chief determinant that makes Bilkent University so popular is its English-medium education. (Male Engineering student)

The interviews aimed to uncover why students equated English with internationalization, and my prompts elicited the notion that a number of policy implementations by the university promote the ideology that Englishization of the institution equates to achieving internationalization. Some of the policy implementations referred to by students are illustrate this:

 Üniversite Erasmus öğrenci değişim programı ile öğrencilerini değişime yollaması açısından uluslararası olarak düşünülebilir. Eğitim dili İngilizce olmamış olsaydı bu tarz öğrenci değişimleri mümkün olmazdı

The university might be considered international in terms of student exchange through the Erasmus exchange program. This kind of student exchange would not have been possible had the language of instruction been Turkish. (Female Engineering student)

Bir üniversiteyi uluslararsı yapan unsurlar yani okulun nerdeyse değil tamamında İngilizcenin gayet etkin bir rol alması bulunması ve eğitim sisteminin Amerikan Avrupa sistemine yönelik olması mesela bu AA, AB, BB gibi.

The elements that make a university international comprise the use of English all across the university in full rather than in part, and the fact that the education system is being grounded on American and European styles, such as the use of their marking symbols, AA, AB, BB, etc. (Male Engineering student)

Üniversitenin IELTS ve TOEFL gibi sınavları tanıması üniversitenin uluslararası olduğunu iddia edebilmek göstermiş olduğu bir çabadır. Aksi takdirde, yabancı öğrenciler okumak için bu üniversiteyi seçmezlerdi.

The recognition of international tests such as IELTS and TOEFL is an attempt by the university to be able to claim that it is international. Otherwise, overseas students would not choose to study at the university. (Female History student)

The excerpts above indicate quite clearly that the use of English as the medium of instruction in most institutions is viewed by students as the exclusive form of realizing internationalization. While EMI indeed contributes positively to the internationalization process of the institutions in many respects, it is not the sole facilitator, but rather simply one of several. Consequently, the narrow thinking which associates EMI with the realization of ‘internationalization’ within institutions originates, on the one hand, from the narrow understanding of the term internationalization, and the equation of the term with the adoption of English-medium instruction only (Kirkpatrick 2011); and on the other hand, over-reliance on English as the master key that will open every gate of an institution to the international arena.

To exemplify the confusion experienced by students as regards the role of English, the idiom of mixing apples and pears may be employed. In other words, they fail to distinguish the central role of English as the vehicle for internationalization of the institutions by allotting English an unrealistic role as the single means of being internationalized. One of the oft-cited definitions of internationalization of higher education is that of Knight (1999), who refers to it as ‘the process of integrating an international/intercultural dimension into the teaching, research and service functions of the institution’ (p. 21). Knight’s definition contains no reference to English or any other language, the main focus being on the incorporation of an intercultural aspect in the three main functions of a tertiary institution. In my opinion, the universities’ policy implementations (e.g. recognition of international language entry tests, student exchanges) as illustrated above play a key part in the proliferation of this ideology in students’ minds.

Taking for granted the fact that English makes it possible for universities to engage in all types of activities which are essential if they are to be truly international, students seem to miss an important point: that as well as being an indication of the degree of internationalization of higher education, the use of English-medium instruction paradoxically forms a barrier to the achievement of genuine internationalization. This is mainly because a truly internationalized university should not be reliant on a sole language, i.e. English, but should create opportunities for students to be able to study through the medium of languages other than English. It also goes unnoticed by many students that the dominance of English may pose a threat to their national identity and culture, while a truly internationalized university will strive to cherish the local language and culture along with others it hosts within its boundaries. Last but not least, some universities which are run through the medium of Turkish, such as Istanbul University and Ankara University, are ranked higher than their English-medium counterparts in the university ranking lists. Interestingly, it is a Turkish-medium university, Anadolu University, which has the highest number of international students in Turkey.

Clearly, students’ arguments for English as the sole driver of internationalization can be easily rebutted. Thus, it is the responsibility of tertiary institutions to prepare their students for global citizenship by producing individuals who can communicate not only in English but in other languages as well. To accomplish this, there is an urgent need for institutions of tertiary education to implement innovative policies that are more in line with the concept of a truly internationalized university. Changes of this kind will likely translate into the view of students that English is not the only way to become ‘international’, but rather just one of several.


Kirkpatrick, A. (2011). Internationalization or Englishization: Medium of Instruction in Today’s Universities. Hong Kong. Centre for Governance and Citizenship Working Paper Series 2011/003. Institute of Education.

Knight, J. (1999). Internationalization of higher education, in J. Knight (ed.) Quality of Internationalization in Higher Education, (pp. 13-28). Paris: OECD.

Author Ali Karakas

Ali KARAKAŞ is a member of the Faculty of Education of the University of Mehmet Akif Ersoy, Burdur, Turkey. He holds a BA degree from the University of Uludag, Bursa, Turkey. He took MA courses at Hacettepe University, Ankara and dropped the program during thesis writing period, when he was accepted to the Integrated PhD program in Applied Linguistics by the University of Southampton, UK. Right now, he is continuing his PhD at the same university. He has presented papers in national and international conferences and published articles in reputable journals and educational magazines. His research interests include English as a Lingua Franca, Language Teacher Education, Applied Phonetics, and Computer Assisted Language Learning. He can be contacted at the following email address: [email protected]

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  • Matthew


    Although I do not disagree with the premise that it is important to make sure that universities are considered more ‘international’ to due a range of factors not just the English language. I can’t help but think that there is a reason policy makers and students a like view Englishisation as Internationalisation due to the opportunities this kind of ‘internationalisation’ offers. Perhaps it is not such a misconception but a desire to be a certain kind of ‘international’? What do you think?

  • I would say social media is playing an instrumental role in the globalization of English. I have seen people even from non-English speaking countries try to exchange information in English on various social media channels.