Sunday, September 06, 2009
La Presse has an op-ed here on the controversial plans for the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQÀM) to offer a program in English, an op-ed that I almost entirely agree with. It's true that English programs are really nothing special anymore and a university in an area like Quebec would probably be able to profit from offering something a little more related to its position in North America, and that means other languages like Spanish and Portuguese.
On the other hand, it does seem to give the impression during the first part that English is spoken everywhere. The intent here is that English is spoken everywhere so the UQÀM shouldn't bother, but if it really was spoken everywhere then the strategic advantage given by knowing other languages as well wouldn't exist. The example given of the Korean university system is also a bit unrealistic, as the government here in Korea often comes up with some pretty fanciful ideas to offer English in every classroom throughout the country that end up delayed or cancelled, or scaled down. This is also the case in many countries here in Asia, where many universities and languages schools give the impression that they are offering programs that will bring about perfect fluency and a multinational faculty when the actual program turns out to be far short of such a lofty goal. Don't forget that English is big business and promised or planned results are often very far removed from reality.
Here's part of the op-ed.
(edit: changed replaced to reduced)
Yes, English is everywhere in universities. It's like the stylish jeans of years passed, that everyone has already bought. There are English language universities in Beijing and Mexico. Even in France one can get a degree only in English.
At university in Korea, 30% of classes are in English and they are aiming for 50% for the year 2012. In Gyeongsang National University they are creating an "English zone" including a student residence where all the employees, caretakers, cafeteria servers, etc. are western English speakers, and it is forbidden to speak Korean.
In fact, there is so much English available in universities throughout the world that even English-speaking countries can no longer attract the young. According to a study by the British Council published in 2004, the main English-speaking countries will see their portion of international students decline over the next few decades.
Even in 2005, four out of five universities in the UK are showing a drop in registration of foreign students. In just one year, enrollment of Chinese students had dropped by 50%. Those in China have no more need of our help to learn English. China is learning English at a rate of 20 million people per year, which is equal to the population of English-speaking Canada in a single year.
UQÀm will not join the university elite with its six courses in English. On the contrary, it will only become a simple Winners of education, another seller of surplus inventory and English at a discount like the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, competitors that can do this much better, and much cheaper than Quebec.
So UQÀM wants to open itself to the world, prepare for the future and develop new markets for foreign students? There is, however, an immense and lucrative market developing right now: tat of English students that want to learn other languages. In England, young business graduates and businesspeople are concerned more and more about their strategic disadvantage in a world of business where everyone speaks English. When everyone speaks English AND French AND German AND Mandarin, English gives one no strategic advantage at all.
In 2006, President George Bush, not known for his great cultural sensibility, began the National Security Language Initiative, a vast program focused on the complete reconstruction of learning foreign languages in the United States.
UQÀM could profit from these opportunities and this emerging demand. Quebec could look to the future in lieu of the past and prepare itself for Spanish, the real common language of the Americas and a language of importance everywhere, even in the United States.
Already, in Brazil and the Caribbean, many countries that are positioning themselves for an eventual common market have
replacedreduced English in their educational systems and replaced this with Spanish. Add to this a bit of Portuguese and Quebec will position itself as the multilingual intellectual centre of the Americas.