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English-Medium Instruction in French Higher Education: Competing Ideologies, Policies and Practices

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Over the past decade there has been an exponential rise in the number of courses being delivered in English across Europe making English-medium instruction (EMI) a particularly significant area of research in European higher education (Brenn-White and Faethe 2013). Few studies, however, have examined EMI in France because it is a comparatively recent phenomenon. This thesis aims to provide insight into the ongoing exploration of EMI by investigating it within the French context.
In July 2013, Article 2 of the Fioraso Law was introduced making it easier for French universities to deliver courses in English (which was, in theory, illegal under the 1994 Toubon Law). The decision to depart from the traditional French-only model was highly controversial and sparked widespread protests and debates. Using Article 2 as the starting point for the research, the overall aim of the thesis is to examine the policy trajectory of Article 2 and how it has been recontextualised within a specific institutional setting. Following the “ethnography of language policy” (Johnson 2013), this study explores how policy texts and related discourses move through national, institutional and local levels. Ultimately, the goal is to understand how Article 2 (and by extension EMI) is interpreted and enacted “on the ground”. This study focuses on a public French university which primarily specialises in sciences.
The thesis comprises three main data sets: official language policy documents (parliamentary debates and four versions of Article 2), interviews (with 8 EMI teachers and 2 university administrators) and EMI classroom observation (14 hours). It emerges that EMI is an extremely sensitive topic at the national level whereas it is more readily accepted within the university context. Taking a discourse-oriented ethnographic approach, this research examines the way in which policy actors understand and engage with EMI at different levels. The findings reveal that EMI is naturalised in the university context, while in Parliament it is instrumentalised for political purposes. By investigating how EMI takes on significantly different meanings across various settings, this study contributes to the field of language policy and planning as well as the research on EMI.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2018


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