The global forces affecting the education sector to-day - the universities in Europe as an example

Lecture held at the University of Dresden 4th September 2001 for the Erasmus network

By Birgit Brock-Utne

University of Oslo

What is globalization?

Some people feel that the term globalization simply denotes a multiplicity of international relations, the personal meetings with foreign peoples and their food, clothes, languages, music and dances or the experiences of satellite broadcasting and world-wide contacts via the Internet. A lot of this is of course to the good.

What I want to focus on here, is that massive economic globalization, with wide-ranging social and cultural repercussions, which has taken place during the last two or three decades, and which  radically transforms our societies - on the terms of capitalist corporations. I am focusing on capital-led globalization.

Economic domination and penetration have taken place during ages, varying in forms from mutually beneficial trade to violent robberies. The process took an especially sinister form during the times of European colonization and transatlantic slave trade. The industrial revolution in Europe was followed by a dramatic increase in international trade, which is still accelerating, and which is still marked by the extraction of raw materials from the former colonies in return for finished products from the transnational corporations of the North. An increasing amount of this production to-day takes place in the South, but by under-paid workers under the dominating ownership and direction of the Northern corporations.

During the last few decades the economic penetration and domination by transnational corporations (TNCs) have accelerated at such a pace and to such a degree that we are confronted with a global phenomenon which needs a specific name. It is this phenomenon that I here refer to as GLOBALIZATION. This is what more and more social scientists the world over have in mind when they use that word.  

To-day's globalization is due to two particular changes, one technological, the other one political. Firstly, electronic communications and data computers have made it possible for top executives to oversee and direct enormous transnational corporations and to move limitless amounts of financial capital the world over instantaneously. Secondly, through political decisions our governments have dismantled national controls with capital movements, profits and foreign investments. By this willed or enforced political choice - the consequences of which have seldom been spelled out to the electorates - our political leaders have removed those legal and administrative tools which might have protected local economic and social systems. They have turned our national economies into an unregulated global market where private speculators and corporations have free play. A number of international agreements and organizations have paved the way for this globalization process.

Arrangements like the Common European Market and the North American Free Trade Area have opened up for free movement of capital, goods, services and investments within specific regions. Directed by Western interests the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are using their creditor powers to pressure first the poor debtor countries of the South and then the collapsing members of the former Soviet Union to turn their own battered economies into the same kind of unrestricted markets. Last but not least, GATT, which has now been rearmed as the World Trade Organization (WTO), has become a vehicle for assuring that practically the whole world is opened for the unhindered operations of private capital. This explains why half the world's one hundred largest economies are to-day not countries, but transnational corporations. 

In May 1998 the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Oslo convened a conference called: Globalization - on whose terms? A year later a publication with the same title appeared in the series of our Institute featuring many of the main papers given at the conference. (Brock-Utne and Garbo, eds. 1999). Most of the articles in that publication critically discuss the impact of globalization on education, cultures, gender relations and languages of individual countries, particularly, but not only, in the countries of the South. In the last little section of the book we touch upon the question of where to go from here. How may the peoples of the world cope with globalization and its negative consequences? How can we establish some kind of local and global democratic governance which obliges financial and corporate capital to conform to the values and norms which we want to prevail in caring human societies?

Neither the editors of the publication nor the contributors have a final answer. But the Danish educational researcher Kirsten Reisby (1999) tries in her article to show something of what a locally situated, participating schooling practice with global perspectives might contribute. An educational reform of that kind might render an important contribution - provided that it could act in tandem with a broad grass-root mobilization carried out by environment organizations, women groups, religious societies, trade unions, concerned academics and other non-governmental forces. The Oslo conference "Globalization: on Whose Terms?" was a modest input to this slowly emerging global mobilization against globalization.   The rapid spread of the non-governmental organization “Attack” has shown that people world - wide have started to react against the dictations of the market and the building down of the state.

The capital-led globalization which to-day turns the countries of the whole world into one gigantic market, may certainly lead to an increased production of commercially attractive articles and services. But this form of globalization has at the same time a number of extremely negative consequences. The economic growth which it promotes is destructing the recuperative capacity of the global ecosystem on which we all depend. But even before the inherent catastrophy breaks upon our children and grandchildren the competition for survival in a reckless market is leaving in its wake an enormous number of victimized losers, first and foremost in the poor countries, but even among the underprivileged sections of rich societies (1).

The merchandization of society is threatening cultural variety, caring attitudes and feelings of solidarity. Instead of being a vehicle for building a just and human society, the economic policy of our governments is reduced by globalization to a question of accommodating the "market forces", namely the transnational corporations and their bigger shareholders. Their concerns are not social justice and protection of the environment.

The Effects of Globalization on Education

The effects of globalization on education have been felt mostly within the field of higher education. This is where the language of the market has come in, where phenomena like privatization, cost-sharing, temporary employment are being discussed and implemented .

This is where job security, academic freedom and local culture are threatened.  Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie (1997:1) in their book Academic Capitalism argue that the globalization of the political economy at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century is destabilizing patterns of university professional work developed over the past hundred years. “Globalization is creating new structures, incentives, and rewards for some aspects of academic careers and is simultaneously instituting constraints and disincentives for other aspects or careers”. They conclude from their study of contemporary changes in the university sector in Britain, the United States, Australia and Canada:

Despite the very real differences in their political cultures, the four countries developed similar policies at those points where higher education intersected with globalization of the postindustrial political economy. Tertiary education policies in all countries moved toward science and technology policies that emphasized academic capitalism at the expense of basic or fundamental research, toward curricula policy that concentrated moneys in science and technology and fields close to the market…, toward increased access at lower government cost per student, and toward organizational policies that undercut the autonomy of academic institutions and of faculty (Slaughter and Leslie: 55).

Jill Blackmore (2000) points to the fact that the restructuring of higher education in many nation-states also has a gender dimension. The restructuring has selectively reduced the access of women from lower socioeconomic status and mature-aged students to higher education and promoted the entrepreneurial academic leader (almost always a male). Additionally the commercialization of education shifts resources to immediate useful outcomes and targets the strategic disciplines in universities, the applied sciences and technology where women are not concentrated, often resulting in the downsizing of education, social sciences, and humanities faculties where women are concentrated as academics and students. The American incentive schemes for academics that are now also spreading to Europe also seem to benefit male academics more than female academic staff. (2)

In the following I shall discuss four related phenomena:

* The  changed and reduced role of the state and the cutting down of  government revenue and spending

* The threat to academic freedom and to critical thinking stemming  from a dependency on fundings from corporations, private foundations and donors

* The threat to academic freedom and to critical thinking stemming  from the reduction of tenured positions in the universities and the use of a cheaper and more flexible academic workforce

* The threat to local university culture  through the harmonization of the university systems in Europe along Anglo-American lines as well as through the increasing use of English as a means of academic communication.

One sometimes hears that in our time the ideologies are dead. I do not find this a correct observation. There seems to be one over-riding ideology: the neo-liberal ideology, the triumph of the market and corporate capitalism. Within the education sector this ideology has led to neo-liberal pressures to develop educational policies that attempt to restructure post-secondary educational systems along entrepreneurial lines. The practice of this ideology, applied to the university sector, has come the furthest in the US. Since many countries in Europe are slowly embracing the US model, I feel justified in using examples from the US to show the functioning of the market-model university and the professor entrepreneur. Trends that can be seen in the US may be indicative of the way universities in other parts of the world will behave several decades later.

The influence of the changed and reduced role of the state in the education sector

According to globalization theory the state is there to facilitate the market but public spending should be kept to a minimum. Within the education sector this means a cry for more efficient use of inputs (teachers, texts, and tests), the introduction of privatization and choice, seemingly to increase efficiency. It further implies greater reliance on cost recovery of education through parent and community participation and a shift of resources from higher to primary education. (Brock-Utne, 2000b, Mundy 1998).

Universities in the US where this market model has been put into earlier and more systematic use than in Europe have seen how government funding has been cut down and the philosophy of cost-sharing introduced. Cost-sharing means high tuition fees for the students. To get a good job in the US it is often more important what university you graduated from than what you studied. The tuition fees in some of the best universities are so high that only the most wealthy parents can afford to have their youngsters study there.

Cost-sharing also means that corporations are moving into the university sector. Thus in 1987 the University of California in Berkeley which was once funded almost entirely by the state of California, saw the public funding fall to 50% of its overall budget, and to 34% in 1999. Buildings erected in the 1990s, such as the one housing the business school, were financed exclusively by private donations. (Warde, 2001). The Haas family (heirs to jeans maker Levi Strauss) was its most generous benefactor and saw to it that the school bore its name. A number of major corporations endowed faculty positions. Even the dean holds the position of “Bank of America dean.” The Haas School of Business is plastered with corporate logos and all its rooms bear plaques commemorating their donor: a company, an alumnus or a graduating class.

In many European countries there are no or just small tuition fees in the universities but students (with the help from their parents, through student bank loan schemes or by part-time work) have to pay for books and their own up-keep. In an article on Europization of higher education in Europe Karl-Heinz Heinmann (2001) mentions that in Germany studies at the universities are free also for foreign students. But he asks whether this provision will be allowed to continue. He refers to the world-wide agreement  in WTO in Geneva on the liberalization of trade within the service sector – GATS – which is to be made valid also in the education sector.

Even though high tuition fees for students have not been introduced in most European universities, the governments have reduced public funding to the universities. The European universities are learning to deal with these reductions in several ways. Even in Norway many positions have been frozen right across the university. Some departments have been affected by these reductions more than others have. It has become difficult to run departments where there is hardly anything left over for buying books, sending academics to conferences, granting them well-deserved sabbaticals or reduced teaching hours (Currie and Tjeldvoll, 2001). There is now in Norway a pressure on academics to generate income for their departments. This can be done by getting research grants and contracts, by attracting donor funding or by creating courses to sell.

Sometimes these courses are sold to Ministries. In this case it is all public money and instead of giving the universities cuts in the funding, one might ask them to open their courses more to the general public, even if that might have meant teaching at some inconvenient hours. One may wonder about the sense in having over-worked academics teach courses to create money for their institution, forfeiting the time they could have used for research or critical thinking. The research grants that individual researchers are able to get may sometimes be the only way to recruit junior staff and Ph.D. students. For the senior researcher involved the administration of these grants takes up valuable time and if the teaching load is not cut down (which it often is not) the researcher in question gets totally over-worked. 

In interviews with Joan Obra, Stacy Schwandt and Peter Woodall  (2001) professors at the UC Berkeley say they feel pressure to raise funds. They quote Professor Kenneth Wachter, chairman of the department of demography at UC Berkley who says about the pressure to raise funds for the university: ”I think of how more faculty time is being taken away from thinking, how more time is taken away from creative teaching”. Professors at Berkeley tell that in a lot of the paper-work they have to fill in each year there is a line saying: How much external money did you raise? They feel that they are being judged by the university administration on their success in collecting money for the institution. It is no longer enough to publish in journals. How much grant money you have received is also a criterion for success in the academia. Members both of the administrative and the academic staff of the universities are involved in this fund-raising exercise but when research grants are involved, the academics have to do most of the work. The pressure to generate income for the department and the freezing of academic positions which means that when a professor retires, there will be no replacement for him or her makes for over-worked university professors.

The reduced public funding to the universities also means that academic staff has to teach larger classes and tutor more students, often with no extra remuneration. Reduced public funding all in all means there is little money to raise salaries of professors who, compared to their academic qualifications, most places have rather modest salaries. This situation of public poverty in an affluent society has led to the growth of private institutions within higher education. In Norway a private commercial college now has more than 20 000 students. Here students have to pay high tuition fees but they can count on smaller classes and more individual tutoring. Here market principles govern and members of the academic staff get a substantial honorarium from the College for each article they get published in a refereed journal.

It should also be mentioned that some of the newer universities in the UK,  particulary the University of Warwick and the University of York seemingly are doing well as entrepreneurial universities. In April 1998 the Financial Times published a league table of universities in the UK showing that the University of Warwick was better than Oxford at teaching undergraduates. The FT also placed Warwick in the top ten for research and the A level grades of applicants (Bright, 1998). 60% of income at the University of Warwick comes from business and research grants, the University of Warwick has one of the best math departments in Britain. A French government study published in 1993 said Warwick was “Europe’s  most outstanding example of how a university should interact with industry”. And Tony Blair said about the University of Warwick: “Warwick is at the cutting edge of what has to happen for the future.” (Bright,1998:23). Warwick attracted radical young academics keen to escape traditional university structure. Lecturers were encouraged to develop their own courses.

Asked to identify the moment when Warwick began to establish itself as a world-class university, the academic staff pointed to 1981, the year the Thatcher government introduced the first post-war cuts in state spending on higher education. While other universities panicked and introduced sweeping cuts, Warwick committed itself to finding outside investment. Lecturers in all subjects were encouraged to find sponsors. According to an article in the Guardian Weekly the sixties radicals set to it with relish (Bright, 1998) and “they voted against Conservative policies while benefiting hugely from the Thatcherite entrepreneurial spirit.” Yet funding from business does not come without strings attached.

The threat to academic freedom and to critical thinking stemming from a dependency on fundings from corporations, private foundations and donors.

The market-model university

James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield (1998), professors at Harvard, use the term “the market-model university” to denote a type of university where departments that make money, study money or attract money are given priority. Universities in the US are becoming two-tiered institutions with rich departments and poor departments, academic superstars and an academic underclass. For advocates of this new partnership such as the Business higher Education Forum, a lobbying coalition of corporate and academic leaders, there is a long list of reasons why tearing down the walls separating the universities from the marketplace is a win-win proposition. But those looking at the universities as places for independent research do not agree with this proposition. Ronald Collins, director of the Integrity in Science Project at the Centre for science in the Public, has argued that “science is losing credibility – conflicts of interest, biased studies and secrecy are undermining science’s reputation and its truth-seeking objective.” (Warde,2001 with further reference to Weatherall,2000 and Collins,2000). It was once assumed that funding came with no strings attached. This is certainly not true anymore, if it ever was. The logic of the “market-model university” assumes that whoever is paying the piper should call the tune. Recipients are expected to become apologists for donors.

Joan Obra, Stacy Schwandt and Peter Woodall (2001) tell how in Stephens Hall at the UC Berkley, the Center for African Studies occupies a two-room office marked by cracked walls and scuffed linoleum floors. Down the hall, the center for Middle Eastern Studies operates out of a sumptuously appointed suite of offices with stained glass, gleaming copper paneling and a trickling fountain. A few years ago, these centers were virtually the same. Both made do with modest budgets and tiny offices. They shared a copier. Then Nezar AlSayyad, chairman of Middle Eastern Studies, took two trips to Saudi Arabia with UC Berkeley chancellors. He landed a $ 5 Million donation from a Saudi Arabian foundation for remodeling and for “The Sultan program” which finances visiting professors and a research program on issues of Arab identity.

Many departments in US universities have forged formal, sometimes controversial relationships with companies. Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, was given two of five seats on a research committee at UC Berkely after donating $25 million . Corporations are shaping more than research agendas. Private donations sponsor and decide on new master programmes in US universities( Obra,  Schwandt and  Woodall  2001). The loss of academic freedom is felt both by academic staff and students.

Threat to students

In his article on US academic integrity for sale Ibrahim Warde (2001) notes that Nike recently announced that it would withdraw millions of dollars in financial support from the following three universities in the US: the University of Michigan, the University of Oregeon and Brown University. The reason for the withdrawal of the financial support was that student groups at these campuses had dared criticize the company’s wages and working conditions, especially of children, in their factories in some of the world’s poorest countries.

The professor-entrepreneur

The logical consequence of the operation of higher education along market economic principles has been what Warde (2001) calls: the professor entrepreneur who uses his academic affiliation as a launching pad for lucrative ventures. Such academics often spend most of their time working on their private projects. They have a tendency to privatize revenues and socialize expenses (through the use of university administrative resources, “free” student labor and the infrastructure of the university).

Academics whose research is paid for by private corporations, or donor agencies, know that they are not likely to get new projects if their research comes up with conclusions that the funders do not like. Increasingly corporations operate under cover of “non-profit research organizations” which provide the much-needed “plausible deniability” (Warde,2001). Professor Warde from the University of California in an article on US academic integrity on sale (3) gives several examples of how data are being fudged by academics who are paid by companies having a financial stake in the outcome of the research. For example at the time of the microsoft trial “independent” research institutes secretly funded by the software giant churned out “studies” meant to influence the public as well as the courts. By looking at the “science” behind global warming  (Gelbspan, 1998) or breast implants (Angell, 1997) or the effectiveness of a drug, we can see that it is not unusual for sponsored academics to fudge the data, suppress unfavorable evidence, and otherwise to do what Warde calls “torture the data till they confess.”

An illustration of the policy impact of sponsored research is the case of the University of Florida criminology professor Charles Thomas, who for 20 years was the advocate of prison privatization. He had testified before Congress on the merits of full-scale privatization, and his "”expert" views were frequently quoted in major newspapers in the US and moved the stock value of corporations involved in running jails. He turned out to have been on the payroll of private correction companies all along and was also a significant shareholder in those companies. In January 1999 he received a  $ 3 million consultancy fee over the merger involving Corrections Corporations of America.

Warde notes that academic disciplines that should in theory be concerned about the relations between university and the marketplace pay scant attention to these issues. Departments of education are busy exploring the latest educational fads. The social sciences are mostly preoccupied with quantification and abstraction. Business schools are Cheerleaders for whatever generates profits. He finds that it is within the sciences themselves – and in publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that the most thoughtful research on conflicts of interest and other ethical issues is taking place.  When Los Angeles Times revealed that 19 out of the 40 articles published in the last three years in the drug section of the NEJM had been written by authors with financial ties to drug makers soul-searching began and an internal inquiry was held.

The threat to academic freedom and to critical thinking stemming from the reduction of tenured positions in the universities and the use of a cheaper and more flexible academic workforce

The aim of  globalizing politicians and bureaucrats is to create a more flexible workforce (Currie, 2001 with further reference to Sklair,2001). This flexibility includes expecting workers to have a variety of skills and demanding that they function in more diverse roles. It also includes reducing the number of permanent workers who may be eligible for benefits and replacing them with contract workers who are less expensive to maintain. Casual employment schemes have increased in universities, and in society generally over the last years. The Australian researcher Jan Currie (2001:2), sees this “as a result of the privatization that has accompanied neo-liberal economic policies, known as globalization, neoliberal globalization and corporate globalization”.

This shift to greater flexibility of academics is occurring in many Anglo-American countries as tenure becomes more difficult to obtain and fewer positions are advertised as tenurable. The idea of a job for life is fast disappearing in countries like the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia. More academics are working on short-term contracts of between two and five years. A new public university in Florida (Florida Gulf Coast University) was opened  in 1997 without any tenured academics.

The rise in part-time faculty at US universities is alarming. Currie (2001 with further reference to Buck, 2001) reports that in 1970 part-time faculty comprised only 22 percent of the professoriate. In 1995 the figure had risen to 41 percent and in 2001 it was 46 percent. Of the 35 000  faculty members who entered the profession from 1995 to 1997 more than two-thirds were part-timers. Also in Australia the casualization of the academic work force is on the increase. Jan Currie (2001) reports that 78 percent of employment in Australian universities over the past twelve months has been in the area of casual employment.  The tenure system is closely linked with academic freedom. One of its main links is to give faculty job security, which allows faculty freedom to speak their minds because they believe they will not be fired. Tenure protects the non-conformist.

In European universities there has been some reluctance to abolish the notion of academics as public servants with tenured positions. Jan Currie (2001) has recently carried out research in three European countries, France, Norway and the Netherlands, where most academics are in permanent employment. There is a high degree of permanency in most jobs in these three countries. Academic freedom seems to be a powerfully unwritten rule for university academics in all three countries and very much a part of their national cultures.

In one of the three European countries Jan Currie studied, the Netherlands, the security of employment situation is, however, changing to resemble that in the United States. The Netherlands appears to be following global practices to a greater extent than the other two European countries. As part of a larger study of the impact of globalization on universiites, four universities were studied in 1998-99; University of Avignon (France), Boston College (USA), University of Oslo (Norway) and University of Twente (Netherlands). The respondents (between 31 and 37 from each place) were interviewed face to face. There were no significant differences among the respondents from Avignon (89%), Oslo (76%) and Boston (74%) with over three quarters in favor of tenure. Academics at the University of Twente stood out from the others as less in favor of tenure with only slightly over half of the respondents saying yes to tenure. There were no academics at the university of Oslo who were against the principle (at the University of Twente 32% were against). There was a tendency that older staff was more in favor of tenure than younger staff.

The threat to local university culture  through the harmonization of the university systems in Europe along Anglo-American lines as well as through the increasing use of English as a means of academic communication

Universities in Europe

It is not so easy to analyze the effects of globalization on the universities in Europe. It has at least to be done along two lines:

* One is to look at the formal cooperation going on between the Ministries of Education in many European states.

* Another line is to look at the effects of neo-liberal pressures on the universities in various European countries. These pressures are felt to varying degrees in the different European countries.

It is the second point that is most discussed here but it is to the first point we shall now turn. . The formal cooperation between Ministries of Education in many European states has for many years dealt with staff and students exchange programmes like Erasmus and  Tempus. While these programmes can be put under the label internationalization, which just means learning from other cultures, the last years of the previous millenium saw a type of coordination of higher education in Europe that has to do with the neo-liberal agenda of worker flexibility.

In 1998 twenty-nine Ministers of Education in various European countries met at the University of Sorbonne in Paris to discuss European higher education .The meeting was originally initiated by the French who were critical to the plans of a nearer integration of higher education in Europe,  especially along the lines of an Anglo-Saxon degree structure. Yet such plans were carried further in the 1999 meeting of the Ministers of Education in Bologna. The meeting focused on quality assessment, on a degree structure along Anglo-Saxon lines with Bachelor degree after three years of higher education, master degree after another two years and Ph.D. degrees after another three years. It also focused on a portfolio system of assessment. Apart from grades students should also upon graduation have a portfolio given a detailed account of study progress, papers written, talks given and so on.

The thought behind the common degree structure has to do with regionalization and integration of the EU member states into a common academic and labor market where credits are easily transferred.  Work-loads are quantified, assessed and given credits that are to be transferable all over Europe. In an article in Erziehung und Wissenschaft  (Heinmann,2001)  this credit is called a “Bildungseuro”  - an educational Euro. The credit point system was agreed upon by the Ministers of Education who met in Bologna  but has not been put in place in Germany yet. For many European countries the new degree structure means shorter and more effective studies. It means more of cramming for exams, less time to think, be critical, go in depth into issues. It means a farewell to what has been called the Humboldt university tradition which included long studies and a chance to grow, to contemplate and criticize the curriculum taught. The restructuring of the European universities along Anglo-Saxon lines has met with student and academic staff protests in many European countries, notably in Denmark, Germany and Belgium where students have protested for weeks. (Heinmann,2001)

The language issue

One of the most important ways to maintain local culture in the universities in Europe is through the persistent use of the local languages as languages of higher learning. The globalizing trends that are felt in the European universities encompass however the greater use of the globalizing language English. There is a growth in the number of courses taught in English all over European universities. I have elsewhere (Brock-Utne,1993; 1997; 2000b, 2001b) shown how the building down of the state and the liberalisation of the economy in many of the African states over the last years have led to the former colonial languages being strengthened within African intellectual life. The strengthened position of English seems congruent with the success of capitalism and market-economy. It can be felt also in the Nordic countries.

In an OECD publication on higher education in Finland the Finns are praised for their increased teaching through the medium of English at universities and even in polytechnics.

Foreign-language instruction has got under way quickly at the polytechnics. Three programmes were taught entirely in English during the academic year 1993-94 (OECD 1995a:11).

In another OECD publication from the same year we read that during the last few decades English has acquired the status of main foreign language in Sweden. This publication looks at the growth of English, even as a language of instruction, without any hesitation:

An interesting way of strengthening language training is to use foreign languages as the means of instruction in other subjects. Experiments of this kind, for natural reasons still limited to English, are going on in a number of upper secondary schools. So far, results have been positive...The requirement that regular courses, perhaps even full programmes, should be arranged with English or another foreign language as the language of instruction is even more relevant at the level of higher education (OECD 1995b:144).

The  main reason given in this publication for the introduction of English as the language of instruction in upper secondary and higher education has to do with the movement of people across countries. It is claimed that in order to interest prospective ERASMUS partners to come to Sweden courses in English have to be offered.  It is admitted in the publication  that the dominance of English as the language of instruction may be a problem: "Although there is a certain amount of instruction in English, there is not much readiness to extend this to other languages" (OECD 1995b:144). This is certainly an understatement. Nowhere in this OECD publication does one, however, ask what the growth of English as the language of instruction will do to the Swedish language as an academic language

Many of us who teach in  Nordic universities have seen that during the span of the last generation it has become near to impossible to suggest as required or recommended readings texts in German and French to our students. When German and French professors give lectures at our university they shall have to do so in English. (for a further account of the Nordic dimension in education see Brock-Utne,2000a)

If students apart from being able to discuss professional matters in their own mother tongues in addition also learn to discuss such matters in other tongues, they are getting a valuable and additional linguistic competence. If that other language is English, we may say that students have acquired “additive English”. This is a desired state and in clear contrast to acquiring “subtractive English” - where English is learned at the cost of the mother tongues, not in addition to them. Subtractive English kills other languages.

If the use of a mother tongue as the medium of communication at the highest academic levels ceases, is drastically reduced and replaced through the use of a foreign tongue, we may speak of subtractive learning. If the mother tongue is being replaced by a foreign tongue in academic writing, in research and university level teaching, the mother tongue will stagnate. We may reach a situation which I have often encountered when listening to Tanzanian colleagues discussing academic matters in Kiswahili.  When they reach a certain point in the conversation the number of English words increases or they often switch completely to English. The vocabulary they need has not been allowed to develop at the highest academic level (4).

There is in Europe a growth in the number of professors who nourish the thought that their students might as well study in English. In 1989 Holland appointed  Prof.Ritzen, a professor of economics as their Minister of Education (5). Minister. Ritzen who had a doctoral degree both in economics and physics and had studied in the United States claimed that if Dutch higher education wanted to be more than provincial,  one had to open up for as many foreign students as possible and replace Dutch with English as the language of instruction. He called English ”the Latin of the 21st century”. As a professor of economics in Holland he had felt frustrated because of the use of Dutch in the academia. As a minister he was now in the position to propose that English should be the sole medium of instruction in Dutch universities. His proposal met with overwhelming support from the academia. Academics said they did not want a twotier system where the same courses would be taught both in Dutch and English and felt it might be just as good to have all the courses taught in English.

His proposal met with harsh critique when it was presented in parliament, however. Here it was decided that a commission set up for the purpose should look into the issue of the language of instruction in Dutch higher education. The commission recommended not to do anything, i.e. not try to regulate the issue of language of instruction by law because it felt that language was not a problem in practice. However, Parliament insisted on regulating the language issue amongst other things because it didn't trust the Minister (6) and the academics. Therefore Parliament actually proposed and passed an amendment to the law now saying that no courses can be offered in another language if it is not offered in Dutch. This was actually seen as a step backwards for those professors who wanted more English language instruction in Dutch higher education. There has, however, been a growth of Master courses taught in English within Dutch higher education.  Around 1997 around 400 master courses taught in English were registered in Holland.

There exists eleven official languages in the EU to-day. That makes for 110 different language combinations for interpreters and translators. If three more languages would be accepted, the language combinations would increase to 182 and by another six languages to 380. Everybody knows that this is not possible but everybody also shuns away from the open discussion of selecting one, two or three working languages and which ones this should be.

In the everyday working life of Brussels English is, however, silently but steadily on the march forward, even replacing French as the most important medium of communication (Hermanns, 2001). This is so in spite of the official declaration that every language in Europe is an important part of the European cultural inheritance and should remain so. These are words one finds in the official declaration which proclaims this year – year 2001 – the European language year. The EU-Commissioner Viviane Reding argues for a decision by the EU that every European after compulsory schooling should be able to command two foreign languages apart from their own. Europeans from smaller language communities see the necessity of learning several foreign languages. In Luxembourgh  one finds only 2 percent of the people  speaking only  Letzeburgisch, almost everybody also has a command of  French and German and increasing also English. In Britain however, 66 percent of the people speak only English. 

The irony is, however, that on the Bruxelles labor market for Europe-jobs the mother tongue speakers of English are actually rewarded for this first prize in academic laziness.(7) Angelina Hermann (2001) gives the example of the European youth association, the European Association for the cosmetic industry, the European cancer Association, the European Association of trade union banks which all in their advertisement apply for candidates with English as their first language. This means they are applying for candidates who are so lucky as to be born into the right culture and language – an advantage that Europeans born into other languages do not have – even if they may be in command of several European languages, including English. This tendency to prefer a native speaker of English as an employee is on the increase among the more than 2000 organizations and lobbying groups in Bruxelles. The Belgian lawyer Petra Foubert at the Institute for European law in Leuven who works especially with discrimination sees discrimination on account of language as just as bad as discrimination because of sex or skin color. The preference for a native speaker of a certain language is no better than a preference for a man or for a white person.

In the law of Norwegian higher education it is stated clearly that Norwegian is the language of instruction in Norwegian universities. During the last five years there has however been a clear tendency that we are moving in the direction of more English in Norwegian higher education. (Brock-Utne, 2000a; 2001a). I have recently edited a special issue of the International Review of Education called globalisation and language (Brock-Utne,2001 (ed.). My own article in that issue deals with the influence of the English language on Norwegian higher education (Brock-Utne, 2001a). The article discusses the following five  phenomena, all  contributing to the strengthening of English in Norwegian university life:

* The increasing use of English words in Norwegian academic, bureaucratic or technological language

* The sale of more academic literature in English and stagnation of academic literature in Norwegian

* The recruitment of teaching staff  who don’t speak Norwegian

* The growth in Master degree courses taught in English

* The financial rewards being given to academic staff publishing in an international language (read:English) versus in mother tongue

Use of English words in Norwegian academic, bureaucratic or technological language

There is a clear tendency that recent phenomena are introduced into Norwegian with their English names and often no substitutes are found and the English words continue to be used, often even with their original pronunciation. Words like “pace-maker” and “food-processor” are being used in Norwegian without any attempt of Norwegianizing the words or trying to make up words built on Norwegian roots. In bureaucratic papers from our development agency we may constantly run across English words like “pipeline” in Norwegian texts. Academics are the ones who are most to blame for this development. It is for instance possible within the new computer terminology to find Norwegian words for most phenomena. (8)

There are not many Norwegian university professors who are of so much help for the development of scientific vocabulary in Norwegian as the Icelandic university lecturers are (see Holmarsdottir, 2001). There are only 280 000 people living on Iceland but the Icelanders have kept their language as the language of instruction in higher education and yearly print thousands of new books in their language, an old Viking language that is not understood outside of Iceland. The development of new words is very characteristic of the Icelandic language policy. In Icelandic the word “computer” is translated into tölva , made-up of  tala, plural tölur, (number) and völva (fortune-teller). It seemed to the Icelanders as though the first computers had some sort of supernatural ability to calculate. E-mail is called tölvupóstur ,,made-up of tölva (computer) and post (mail).  The professors in various departments at the University of Iceland contribute a lot to the development of the Icelandic language. For example, in the Department of Humanities the professors and lecturers in statistics have developed new words for various statistical terms and have produced dictionaries for use by their students. Holmarsdottir (2001) shows in her article that it is particularly the use of the Icelandic language in higher education that helps it grow and develop.

She tells how the Icelanders have led a successful battle against Microsoft to be allowed to translate Windows into Icelandic. A similar battle is now being fought by the Norwegians to be allowed to translate Windows into the smallest of the two written Norwegian languages, namely the one known as “Nynorsk” or “Landsmål”. Currently, Microsoft is refusing to translate among other things Windows into this language arguing also here that the market is too small. According to Holmarsdottir (2001) the Norwegian Language Council  sometime in 2001 will demand that Microsoft not only translate Windows into “Nynorsk” but also the most commonly used software programs such as Excel, Access, Power Point and Word. This  is necessary since  117 of the 435 municipalities in Norway have chosen “Nynorsk” as their language of administration, and thus the need for computer programs in this language is essential (Grepstad, 1999). Small language groups such as the “Nynorsk” and Icelandic language communities cannot allow multinational companies such as Microsoft to dictate language policy, which have consequences for the future survival of these languages.

The sale of more academic literature in English and stagnation of academic literature in Norwegian

From 1992 until 1997 the sale in Norway of imported academic literature written in English rose from 150 million to 200 million Norwegian kroner. The great bulk of this literature was used as required and recommended reading at our universities and colleges. Statistics from Norwegian publishers show that the sale of academic literature written in Norwegian  stagnated completely in the same period of time. The number of students rose from 105 000 in 1987 to 173 000 in 1997.

The recruitment of teaching staff who do not  speak Norwegian

The latter part of the 1990ies in Norway witnessed a new practice in the recruitment of academic personnel to teach in our universities and colleges. As part of the so-called “internationalisation” of the colleges and universities in Norway academic teaching posts are now being advertised internationally, often posted on a web-site. Everybody who considers her or himself qualified for the post may apply. As mentioned the law of Norwegian universities and colleges states clearly that the language of instruction in higher education in Norway is Norwegian. So is the language in which tutorials are conducted, exams written and meetings held. Yet when posts are advertised externally, it is often not mentioned that a working knowledge of Norwegian is a prerequisite for applying for the job. (9) Not knowing the language means either not being able to participate in important meetings or forcing everybody in the meeting to speak a foreign tongue – in this case English.

The fact that applicants who do not command Norwegian apply for jobs at our universities and colleges also means that all the members of the evaluation committees shall have to write the evaluation of the applicants in English even if all committee members are Norwegian. In a recent evaluation committee I was a member of this fact caused considerable discussion. One of the committee members held that if a person applied for a post at a Norwegian university s/he should expect to get the evaluation from the evaluation committee in Norwegian since that is the language of administration at our universities.

The growth in Master degree courses taught in English

Another recent development in Norway, and even more so in some other Nordic countries, is the growth in Master degree courses taught in English. I am at the moment the professional leader of such a course myself (10). Most of these courses, like the one I teach,  recruit primarily foreign students, mostly from developing countries and eastern Europe but also from other Nordic countries (through NORDPLUS) and western Europe (through ERASMUS). Some few internationally oriented Norwegian students (we have limited the number of Norwegian students to 25% of the student body in the Master courses) also participate in the Master degree courses.

It seems to make sense to teach these courses through a medium of wider communication than Norwegian. The students we recruit from developing countries are supposed to return to their countries of origin. (11) They are not likely to have much use for a thorough knowledge of academic Norwegian. After all there are only four Million Norwegians and even though Swedes and Danes understand Norwegian we still do not number more than twenty Million totally in the Scandinavian countries. Before we had master courses taught in English foreign students either had to learn Norwegian well enough to be able to study in the language or not choose Norway as a country in which to study. The last option was often chosen and plenty of Norwegian development aid has gone to scholarships to students in developing countries who have studied in Britain, Canada or the US. Professionally Norway may have as much or more to offer in many fields than some of the institutions of higher education in the English speaking world that have recruited students from developing countries.

From a development aid perspective, however, it may make even more sense to help in the building up of master degree programs in developing countries than bringing the most able students from a developing country to take her or his degree in the North. Various types of sandwich programs where part of the training is done in the South, part in the North is being tried out in Norway, especially through the NUFU (12)co-operation.

We may also look at the master courses mostly recruiting foreign students as a way of paying back some of the services given by universities in other countries where Norwegian students study. To study for a semester or two at another university in the world ,  primarily one in a country with a different language and culture than one’s own , is normally an enriching experience for any student.

As long as these master courses taught in English are courses primarily offered to foreign students I see them as enriching for our universities. It is when teaching to a group of students who all command Norwegian is being done through the medium of English that an alarm clock should sound. (13)

The financial rewards being given to academic staff publishing in publishing in an international language (read: English) versus in mother tongue

An example of the prestige given to academic writing within an international (read 95% English) language compared to publishing in a Nordic mother tongue is taken from my own university, from the department of philosophy. In 1991 Norwegian state institutions were, as already mentioned, given the possibility of introducing  "performance salary" as a part of local salary negotiations.  Ivar Bleiklie (1996:45) mentions that: "Published articles and books are rewarded in a similar manner according to whether they are published nationally, for a Nordic public or internationally." He does not , however, mention that the bonus is quite different depending on whether you publish nationally or internationally. Neither does he question this practice. Below is the bonus each of the academics gets from the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Oslo on top of his/her salary when they participate in academic publishing and refereeing:


Bonus paid by the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Oslo in 1997.



Types of publications:

For publications for an

international aaudiance,

written in an international



For publications for a

Nordic audience written in


Book - authored

 15000 NOK

 7000 NOK

Book - edited (covers

also editing of issues

of professional journals)

 5000 NOK

 2000 NOK

Doctoral thesis

 15000 NOK

 7000 NOK

Article in a profes-

sional refereed journal

 7000 NOK

 1000 NOK

Book review in a profes-

sional refereed journal

 1000 NOK

   200 NOK

Referee work in a

professional journal - per article refereed

  500 NOK

   200 NOK


Apart from the fact that this example shows that the  philosophy of American academic life described as "publish or perish" has also hit the Nordic academia, where until 1992 all professors had the same salaries, it also shows the priority given to English at the expense of Norwegian. The example shows us that if this trend continues, the Norwegian language may be threatened as an academic language. This again is a danger for democracy.

 I agree with the Tanzanian publisher Walter Bgoya (1999: 221) who claims that: ”There is no language that is incapable of developing to meet the needs of its people, if the people decide to make that language meet those needs”. It is, however, equally true that a language will not any more be capable of meeting the needs of people if it is not being constantly developed and used at the highest levels of study and research.


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1. The Guardian Weekly of August 1, 2001 cites a report from the Mayor of London stating that “nearly half of London’s children are living below poverty line. “(here taken from Phillipson, 2001:6) Robert Phillipson (2001:6) comments: This is not a description of Victorian Britain, but of London after four years of new Labour.”

2. In 1991 Norwegian state institutions were given the possibility of introducing  "performance salary" as a part of local salary negotiations. Certain sums of money are allocated as "stimulation salary" given to tutors of students who take master and Ph.D. degrees. For the time being the stimulation salary is about 10 000 NOK [ab. 1400 US$] per candidate. Of this half is taken into a general research money pot and half is given to the tutor for her or his personal research budget. This system leads some professors to pick out the best students to tutor, those that cause the least work because they can devote a lot of time to their studies, do not have family obligations or mental problems and have good research and language skills. Other professors (according to my observations often female) will have to deal with the slower students, those who have mental break-downs, have to postpone studies because of child-births or family obligations, have insufficient language skills. The first type of  students who are the cost-effective ones, can also produce work that the professor can easily reformulate a bit and get out as a publication – at least as a co-authored one. This helps the professor in his “publish and perish” career. The second type of students are not able to write something the professor can use.  A part of the performance salary is given to stimulate academic publishing. This means that professors in Norway who all had the same salary ten years ago now have different salaries that are negotiated yearly.

3.  I would like to thank Gunnar Garbo for having kept and referred me to this interesting article. And for also having read and commented upon a first draft of this paper

4. In my most recent book (Brock-Utne,2000b) I give examples of how scientific terminology in  a language like Kiswahili will develop once the decision has been made that a subject will be taught in Kiswahili.

5. I must thank the Visiting Professor Peter Maassen from the University of Twente for the information about the controversy over the language issue at the universities in Holland.

6.  Former Minister Ritzen is now working in theWorld Bank in Washinton DC.

7. Angelina Hermann expresses it this way: ”Für diesen Spitzenplatz in Sachen Lernfaulheit werden sie zumindest auf dem Brüsseler Arbeitsmarkt noch belohnt”. I would like to thank Georgette Brock for having kept and referred me to this interesting article.

8. A computer scientist who was good at this was the late Bjørn Kirkerud, professor of computer science at the University of Oslo. He wrote a Norwegian text-book which has been of great use for Norwegian students in computer science, making this difficult subject easier for them to grasp (Kirkerud, 1985). I remember one day when I said to him that I had to have a new “printer” – using the English word in my otherwise Norwegian sentence – that he said: ”Are you unable to speak Norwegian?” . He made me aware of the fact that we have the good Norwegian word “skriver” and there is no need to use the English “printer”. Likewise he would talk about “e-post”  and “data-maskin” when most Norwegian academics speak of e-mail and PC.

9. Two years ago I was the Head of an evaluation committee with the job of evaluating 17 applicants who had applied for a tenured professorship in development education at one of our Teacher Colleges. Nine of the applicants did not command any Scandinavian language. This prerequisite had not been mentioned for the applicants. Neither had a provision been made that a qualified applicant could for instance be given two or three years in which to learn Norwegian well enough to be able to teach in the language before tenure would be given. There are already examples from one Norwegian university where a British professor still after several years in Norway could not use Norwegian for teaching, tutorials and exam purposes. We were asked whether we in our Master course, which is conducted in English, could use him for exam purposes. This we could not do since he does not command our field of study. It is not possible to function adequately as a professor in a Norwegian university without knowing Norwegian since all communication is in Norwegian.

10.  Master of Philosophy in Comparative and International Education, started in the fall of 1998.

11. Many of our students come to us under the so-called ”Quota Programme”. This means that they participate in a loan scheme on the same conditions as Norwegian students who live on loans from the Student Bank. If the students from developing countries return to their home countries after their term of study in Norway is up the loan is made into a scholarship and deleted. If they, however, stay on in Norway they have to pay the loan back just like Norwegian students have to.

12. NUFU is the name of a body co-ordinating the co-operation between universities in  Norway and in developing countries. Through this co-operation one tries to build up research capacity in developing countries as well as Master and Ph.d. programs.

13. Since I in the summer of 1992 came back  to the University of Oslo after four years of teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam I have, until the fall of 1992, each term taught a course called: ”Education in Africa” (see Brock-Utne and Miettinen, 1998). This course has been taught in English since mostly some of the participants from Africa did not know Norwegian well enough for us to use that language as the medium of instruction. But one semester all of the Africans who attended the course know Norwegian well enough for us to conduct the course in Norwegian. This was a great advantage for us in developing a vocabulary for discussing development issues and education in Africa in Norwegian.