Why do students choose English as a medium of instruction? A Bourdieusian perspective on the study strategies of non-native English speakers

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  • Klarissa Lueg, Denmark
  • Rainer Lueg, Denmark
Taking a Bourdieusian perspective, this paper analyzes the relevance of social background and capital for choosing English as a medium of instruction (EMI). It focuses on students with a non-native English-language background in a business school setting. While proponents argue that EMI generally increases the employability of graduates, they do not sufficiently consider that study strategies differ substantially across social milieus and between the sexes. Failing to account for social distance to the educational system in choosing EMI can foster social inequality, and contribute to the reproduction of elites.

Using a survey, we conduct a quasi-experiment in two identical bachelor's degree programs that differ only in their instruction language. Using structural equation modeling, we find that students from higher social strata are much more likely to choose EMI. As suggested by the Bourdieusian perspective, this relationship is not directly observable but rather operates through hidden mechanisms, such as cultural capital (relative English proficiency) and a better sense of gaming and positioning (career orientation). Business students from the lowest stratum self-select against EMI due to a pronounced fear of failure despite their awareness that EMI leads to higher employability.

Our findings support the successful introduction of EMI while ensuring social equality.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAcademy of Management Learning and Education
Pages (from-to)5-30
Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Research areas

  • Higher Education, Bourdieu, Capital, Language choice, Medium of Instruction, Stratification, University management, Critical management studies, Critical management education, Organizational sociology , Sociology of higher education, English, Internationalization, Diversity

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