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Huge rise in English-taught courses across Europe

There has been a rise of nearly 1,000% in the number of English-taught programmes offered by universities in non-English speaking European countries since 2002, reports Nic Mitchell.

The number has gone up from 725 when the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) carried out its first study in 2002, rising to 2,389 in 2007 and 8,089 in 2014.

The study, English-Taught Programmes in European Higher Education, can be accessed via the PDF link found here.

It was produced by the ACA’s director Bernd Wächter and Friedhelm Maiworm from the Gesellschaft für empirische Studien, with help from Dutch-based StudyPortals and funding from the European Union’s Lifelong Learning Erasmus programme.

Most at Master level

The report found 80% of English-taught programmes (ETPs) were at Master level, with just 20% at Bachelor level.

European countries with the most English-taught courses, according to StudyPortals

European countries with the most English-taught courses, according to StudyPortals

The Netherlands has the most English-taught university courses on the European mainland at 1,078, representing nearly 30% of their course provision. But other countries are catching up fast.

Germany had 1,030, according to the ACA survey, but this represented just under 6% of the total number of programmes available from the country’s universities.

Sweden had 822 courses taught in English – 24.2% of total provision.

The highest concentration of ETPs was found in Denmark, with 494 courses, representing 38% of the programmes available.

Contrasting motives

The most common motives for introducing English-Taught programme are removing language barriers to enrolling foreign students and improving the international competences of domestic students.

Removing language barriers helps foreign students study together

Removing language barriers helps home and foreign students study together

But there are contrasting regional differences for offering courses taught entirely in English around Europe, according to the study.

Introducing English-taught courses was often seen as a way of compensating for a lack of domestic students and as a means to improve income by charging international students tuition fees. These reasons were far more common for institutions in the Baltic States, Central East Europe and from South East Europe, says the ACA report..

There were also contrasts found between different levels of study, with programmes directors of Master programmes highlighting removing language obstacles for foreign students to study in their country. Directors of Bachelor programmes put more emphasis on improving international competences of domestic students and sharpening their university’s international profile.

Catching-up fast

While a comparison of countries offering ETPs shows universities in Central West Europe and Nordic countries continuing to consolidate their traditional role as leaders in offering English-taught courses, the ACA found new players from Central East Europe and the Baltic States are catching-up fast.

Poland had 405 ETPs, nearly 5% of total programmes and the number of English-taught programmes in Estonia increased from 18 in 2007 to 59 in 2014.

Marketing channels

To attract foreign or domestic students to the English-taught courses, the ACA survey reported a broad range of marketing measures and communication channels being used.

Most common was providing information via the university website (81%), distribution of printed information material (71%), presentations at student fairs and information events at home (65%) and abroad (58%), use of entries in international portals/databases (64%), programme overviews/databases of national agencies (52%) and social media (56%).

On the other hand, advertisements in newspapers (31%) and the use of agents in target countries (18%) play only a minor role.

Bologna speeds up the process

"Bologna played a role", says Bernard Wächter from the ACA

“Bologna played a role”, says Bernard Wächter from the ACA

Bernd Wächter said he believed the Bologna process had played a role in expanding English-taught courses and encouraging domestic students to study in English, particularly at master’s level.

He told EUPRIO: “Bologna offered the possibility of a ‘split’ language policy, with the Bachelor part of the programme taught in the domestic language and the Master segment taught in English.

“This is very much the picture in the leading countries, like the Netherlands and the Nordic states.”

Classroom mix

Despite the relative explosion in English-language provision and the ever-increasing focus on ‘internationalisation’ by universities globally, the ACA report shows only 54% of those on ETPs were foreign students in the nations in which they were studying. This figure is down from 65% in 2007 when ACA did its previous survey.

Bernd said this could because a sizeable number of respondents did not fully answer enrolment-related questions.

It could also be because English-taught programmes are proving more popular to students in countries hit hard by youth unemployment as a means to improve their job chances abroad.

Putting things into perspective

Whatever the reasons, the ACA findings help put the widely publicised ‘rush to English’ by European universities into perspective.

Only a tiny proportion of students are on English-taught programmes

Only a tiny proportion of students are on English-taught programmes

For despite their remarkable growth, only a small proportion of students across the European continent are enrolled on English-taught programmes in non-English speaking countries.

The ACA put the figure for 2014 at 290,000 students – that’s just 1.3% of total student enrolment in the countries covered by their survey.

So, there is plenty of room for growth!

Not just a European phenomenon

The expansion of English-taught university programmes is, of course, not just a European phenomenon.

In a feature article for the BBC Business News this month, I reported on a new initiative from StudyPortals to help students find the right course taught in English in a foreign land they know little about.

The mapping exercise looked at what StudyPortals describes as the ‘top 1,000 universities in the world’ using webometrics – which ranks universities according to their web presence and impact.

Of these, 763 institutions offered at least one or more ETP. This total includes ‘top universities’ in English-speaking countries like the US and UK.

But StudyPortals also identified nearly 8,000 courses taught in English in leading universities in non-English speaking countries, including 45 universities in China offering ETPs. In Taiwan, they found 20 ‘top universities’ offering ETPs and 11 in Japan and six in Thailand.

So European domination of this market is likely to face increased competition from overseas in years to come.


English-Taught Programmes in European Higher Education – The state of play in 2014 (ACA)

Universities compete by teaching in English, by Nic Mitchell (BBC business news, 3 February 2016)

Study Portals mapping of ETPs in their 1,000 ‘top universities’