Special Issue – “Critical perspectives on teaching in the multilingual university”

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We are very pleased at the publication of a special issue on ‘Critical perspectives on teaching in the multilingual university’ for Teaching in Higher Education. In the call for papers, just over a year ago, we targeted a global audience of researchers and intended to provoke critical and theoretical responses on the topic which transcend disciplines, fields of concern, and any single higher education context. We are therefore delighted that the curated special issue includes contributions from researchers based across ten countries, and with insights from studies conducted within Pakistan, Timor-Leste, South Korea, Bangladesh, Somaliland, Afghanistan, Fiji, Colombia, and the UK (including Northern Ireland). The articles examine issues related to teaching in the multilingual university through various perspectives, including language and colonial epistemologies, language policies and practices, and language and research.

The contributors show in different ways that imposition of a powerful – and colonial – language as a medium of instruction is far from a ‘neutral’ pedagogical decision, and that faculty and students in higher education who are required to utilise a language such as ‘Standard English’ during teaching will face a range of moral, political, and cultural quandaries.

Arguably, the role of the language of instruction also has serious epistemic outcomes, as Williams and Stelma argue drawing on their research in the context of South Korea. They uncover the hidden consequences of the global hegemonic dominance of English on individual tendencies to trust knowledge produced in other languages, including students’ own ‘native’ or ‘local’ language. This echoes contemporary debates elsewhere about the relationship between ‘global social justice’ and ‘global cognitive justice’.

Kester and Chang further problematise the role of English in the construction of epistemic injustice in two conflict-affected contexts: Afghanistan and Somaliland. Their article centres language in discussions about peace, conflict and education, and highlights the complex trajectories of university students affected by forced migration, incomplete schooling, and low literacy.

Álvarez Valencia and Miranda in their contribution, push back against the traditional boundaries of what counts as ‘language’ in the multilingual university, making a case for broadening the scope of relevance in discussions about coloniality and epistemology.

In two important ‘Points of Departure’ articles, by MacKenzie, Engman and McGurk and Gurney and Demuro, we see how language issues, apropos linguistic justice and multilingualism, are absolutely central to decoloniality, thereby building on ideas developed in a previous special issue.

In another Point of Departure piece, Willans decries the increasing adoption of EMI policy in traditionally non-anglophone postcolonial universities, warning that the ‘new EMI’ universities, who are looking to join the neo-anglophone higher education sector, would do well to learn from the decades of experience of the ‘old EMI’ universities and their failure in implementing EMI efficaciously.

In their paper on Pakistani universities Manan, Chanaa and Haider demonstrate an important mismatch and tension: How teachers, faced with the challenge of implementing EMI policy, circumvent English in class to ensure the use of students’ full linguistic repertoires in classroom learning. But this ‘smuggling’ of multilingual pedagogies leaves them with feelings of ‘guilty multilingualism’. Rafi and Morgan, expose another similar practice-policy mismatch, this time in Bangladeshi higher education, and examine how ‘translanguaging’ pedagogies emerge as alternatives.

Writing in the Timor-Leste context, Newman’s article presents a critical account of how multilingual teaching practices of tertiary lecturers are entangled with diverse ideological forces. These forces include industry standards, local socio- and geopolitical discourses, and historical conditions, arguing overall that there are subtle and ideology-laden discourses that lie behind the ordering of language choice during teaching.

In Mazanderani et al’s paper they explore the development of doctoral writing for a group of international students in the UK. They conclude that in today’s multilingual university the development of doctoral writing skills is beyond the purview of procedural and technical writing support. Relatedly, in their Points of Departure Arafat and Woodin present a dialogue between a PhD student researcher and her supervisor. They highlight important issues which came to the fore for both, including how multilingualism should feature in the development of a doctoral student’s authorial voice and how doing so is part of broadening an intellectual vision for both.

We hope that the summaries, arguments, and discussions presented in this special issue reflect some of the contemporary concerns that surround the multilingual university as presented by the contributors. The Language Problem of the multilingual university is complex, multi-faceted, and one which connects teaching in higher education with inquiry into linguistic challenges, moral dilemmas, (de)colonial efforts, cognitive (in)justice, neoliberal pressures, and global epistemological inequalities. The articles constitute a collaborative listening project that weaves together threads from multiple global contexts, differently troubled by the Language Problem, yet all trying to produce new lines of argument that are hospitable, transformative, culturally sustaining, and unsettling.

Ibrar Bhatt (Queen’s University Belfast), Khawla Badwan (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Mbulungeni Madiba (Stellenbosch University)

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