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Language policies and internationalization in the South: are we missing the target?

It is undeniable that, in the last few years, the internationalization of Brazilian universities was largely influenced by the goals of the Science without Borders program. As a result, student mobility represented a great proportion of the actions developed by institutions that, at varying degrees, incorporated an international dimension into their missions.
As it would be expected, a large-scale program aiming at study abroad opportunities would demand a policy in tune with the development of language proficiency levels required for participation in academic circles. English has figured prominently as the language that has received great attention and investment, despite the recognition of multilingualism being a feature of international universities. An English-centered language policy, which was at first associated with outbound mobility, is now being linked also with incoming mobility, through English as medium of instruction. This move is so strong that some authors claim that internationalization is becoming synonymous with the offer of courses in English.
The pervasive function of English as a lingua franca in the international university, largely derived from practices adopted by universities in the North, obscures the reality of many universities in the South, especially in Latin America. As we look into data of student mobility in the last 5 years, we realize that incoming mobility would better be served by a policy that also favored Latin languages such as Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese.
While EMI may reinforce the predominant model of “internationalization abroad”, dictated by the global higher education market, it does little to strengthen the South-South relationships that seem to be the dominant trend of incoming student mobility as revealed by a survey carried out by ABRUEM – Associação Brasileira de Universidades Estaduais e Municipais, in 2016. This state of affairs suggests that a one-size-fits-all language policy with emphasis on English needs to be reassessed in light of the institutional purposes for internationalization and the strategic goals to be achieved.
Far from denying the value of improving English language proficiency in academic communities, in this presentation I will discuss the benefits of a comprehensive language policy that acknowledges the current reality of international incoming mobility in our universities.


Telma Gimenez    
Universidade Estadual de Londrina


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