English as a Medium of Instruction in the Tertiary Education Setting of the UAE: The Perspectives of Content Teachers
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This study examines content teachers’ perceptions of English as a medium of instruction (EMI) in a higher education (HE) context in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The study problematises the taken-for-granted assumptions surrounding an exclusive EMI model as it is currently implemented in the UAE’s HE institutions, where low English proficiency levels and a limited use of Arabic are characteristic. Based on a critical approach and qualitative methodology, this study draws on in-depth, qualitative, semi-structured interviews with nine teachers from different faculties at a UAE HE institution. It also analyses government and institutional documents to further contextualise and inform the study. The study contributes to a small but growing body of literature assessing language policy, EMI and the spread of English in the UAE. Furthermore, by focusing on teachers’ perspectives, the study gives a voice to a group of stakeholders whose insights are not always fully represented in educational policy decision-making. Salient findings of the study are supported by other recent Gulf and UAE-based studies on EMI in HE. Teachers were generally supportive of EMI, based on the utilitarian functions of English as a lingua franca in the UAE, and the role of EMI in the process of internationalising HE. However, concerns associated with the implementation of EMI primarily included the disempowering effect on students with limited English language proficiency. Students’ struggles with English were identified by teachers as a cognitive burden which negatively affected students’ comprehension, quality of work and academic performance. Limited proficiency in an EMI context also negatively affected teachers’ pedagogical practices, as they reported addressing students’ limited language proficiency by adapting content, pace, depth and the scope of courses, as well as modifying assessment practices and code-switching in Arabic. Gaps in the university’s support mechanisms that targeted literacy and language deficiencies were identified. Based on these findings, it is argued that student access to a tertiary education is compromised. Beyond these concerns, the endorsement of EMI was also found to have a marginalising effect on Arabic, despite institutional support for bilingualism as core graduate skill. The study acknowledges the value of EMI in a more balanced bilingual language policy, and makes recommendations for future practices to address current limitations. The study recommends an increase in the profile of Arabic through the introduction of more Arabic-medium courses across faculties; through the provision of more Arabic learning materials, and through recognising the role of L1 in supporting student learning in EMI courses. English proficiency levels must also continue to improve at pre-university level, so universities can raise entry standards. Finally, universities must improve academic literacy and language support.
EdD in TESOL