Academic English – who sets the rules?

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 34: Higher Education on the Edge

July, 2011, 394 pages
Published by
K. Krause, M. Buckridge, C. Grimmer, & S. Purbrick-Illek
0 908557 85 X

Universities in the Western world enjoy a privileged position particularly if their medium of instruction is English. The ‘west is best’ mentality, which pervades higher education, is often perpetuated not only by those whom it advantages but also those whom it marginalises and L2 (English as a second language) students entering these institutions are often viewed as problematic. Postgraduate students who have been successful in their own countries, often employing English as a medium of communication, find themselves regarded as ‘deficient’ and are urged to seek remedial help for ‘their problems’. All too often intelligent and competent students begin to share this view of themselves as ‘lacking’ and this has a serious and detrimental effect on their self esteem and sense of agency. The problem, of course, is that by the standards of English-medium western universities their English is often error ridden or stylistically flawed, and it would appear quite reasonable that universities, though their academic staff, impose language standards. There are however difficulties with this approach. Ownership implies the right to decide what is acceptable but if English is recognised as a global language who owns it? It would appear that what counts as acceptable English needs rigorous debate among academics, and especially those of us who work in the field of teaching and researching English for academic purposes (EAP).

Key words: Academic English, ownership, changing student cohort, responsibility of EAP practitioners