(EME)MUSIC to a Researcher’s Ears: Identifying a new Research Gap

Beethoven (German), Brahms (German), Liszt (Hungarian) – many of the composers that we associate with Vienna are not, in fact, originally from the “city of music”, or even from Austria. In fact, people have been coming to Vienna to learn and to play music for centuries; it can be argued that musical education in Austria (particularly in Vienna and Salzburg) has a long-standing tradition of internationalisation that goes much further back than the recent strategic trends in higher education more generally.

Musiknoten und Geige

Internationalisation and ‘Englishisation’ go hand-in-hand in European higher education – but not at music universities?

Since the turn of the millennium, researchers have observed a steep increase in the number of European universities introducing and implementing explicit internationalisation strategies as a means to prepare their students for a globalised world as well as be more competitive on the global higher education marketplace. For many institutions, these internationalisation strategies are accompanied by a steep rise in the use of English as the medium of education (EME). The Europe-wide surveys conducted by the Academic Cooperation Association, for example, showed an immense increase in EME “from 725 programmes in 2001, to 2,389 in 2007 and to 8,089 in [2014]” (Wächter & Maiworm 2014: 16).

Hand-in-hand with these developments, research on the role of English in non-Anglophone countries has also skyrocketed in the last two decades, rising exponentially in the last few years (see Wilkinson 2017 and Macaro et al. 2018 for an overview) and even in 2020 alone (e.g. Bowles & Murphy 2020, Dafouz & Smit 2020, Dimova & Kling 2020 and Kuteeva, Kaufhold & Hynninen 2020). Yet very little of this research – if any, to our knowledge – examines the music university context.

At the same time, music universities themselves do not seem to be significantly concerned with the role of English as part of the strategic implications of internationalisation, at least to the extent that traditional universities are. Perhaps because they have had so many international students for so long, and because the type of instruction is so different from a regular lecture or even seminar setting, music universities – in Austria, at least – do not seem to be in a hurry to introduce EME. Anecdotal evidence from friends and acquaintances who had experience of teaching and studying at the Viennese institutions suggested that language use is rather flexible, and the main language of instruction is still German – sometimes with little consideration or support for international students who have low levels of German proficiency.

From research gap to research project

With this in mind, we decided to set up a pilot project to explore this exciting research gap – EMEMUSIC (a play on EMEMUS, Dafouz and Smit’s [2016, 2020] framework for analysing English-Medium Education in Multilingual University Settings, and “music”). This project consists of two stages. First, for many international students, the website is their first point of access to the university and an important positioning tool. We have therefore started our project with a simple website analysis to examine the role of English on the website itself and to find out what information is available about language for (prospective) students, as well as to identify areas to follow up on in the next part of the study. The second part of the study comprises a small qualitative interview-based study and a brief online survey to gain insights into a range of perspectives, ideally including teachers, students and university management.

Additionally, having learnt a great deal ourselves as a result of teaching online during the 18 months of the pandemic, we were curious to find out how emergency distance learning had affected, or been implemented in, music teaching.

Preliminary findings

Our initial website analysis examined the publicly available information for the six main music universities in Austria (mdw and MUK in Vienna, Mozarteum University Salzburg, Kunst Uni Graz, Anton Bruckner Private University Upper Austria, and the Gustav Mahler Privatuniversität für Musik in Klagenfurt). We examined the homepages as well as the general and admissions information in detail, and, where possible, a range of program syllabi and the most recent “Wissensbilanz” (annual reports). These confirmed the somewhat unexpected finding that the official medium of instruction is primarily German, despite an international student body of approximately 40-65%. Perhaps also surprisingly, we also found that the level of German required for admission to many programs is relatively low, given that the students would be expected to use it for their studies – A2 or B1, with some programs asking for a B2 by the end of the students’ first year of study. We even noticed that, although most of the general admissions information is available in English, a rather concerning amount of urgent or important information relating to Covid-19 measures and regulations was only available in German. As applied linguists, whose remit is to address language-related concerns, we were immediately curious: how do international students manage? How does teaching and learning at the music universities happen when participants speak the shared language(s) with different levels of proficiency? How might students (and teachers) be supported in improving comprehension across language barriers? Could best practice from other EME contexts, and especially the digital tools we have learned to use in the last couple of years, support communication and learning in the multilingual music university context?

Next steps: finding out what happens IRL

Our next steps are to move from the virtual portal to real-life practice: interviewing and surveying teachers, students and university management to gain an insight into this world through a variety of perspectives. The music universities are clearly doing something right; they still attract much higher rates of international students than traditional universities in Vienna do (Uni Wien, by comparison, only has about 30%). The question is: is there something we can offer to help them do things even better? Watch this space!

Miya Komori-Glatz is a Senior Lecturer in English Business Communication at WU Vienna University of Economics and Business. She is interested in English-medium education, internationalisation of higher education and English as a (business) lingua franca. She completed her PhD project called “BELF in Multicultural Student Teamwork at WU Vienna: An EMEMUS Study“ in 2018 and has published in a range of journals such as Applied Linguistics and the European Journal of International Management.

Ute Smit is a Professor of English linguistics at the University of Vienna. She is also deputy head of the research platform #YouthMediaLife. As an applied linguist, her main research interest has focussed on English-medium education, language policy concerns, CLIL, ELF and ICLHE. One of her most recent publications (2020, together with Emma Dafouz) is “ROAD-MAPPING English Medium Education in the Internationalised University.“

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Bowles, H. and Murphy, A.C. (eds) (2020) English-Medium Instruction and the Internationalization of Universities (International and Development Education). Palgrave: London.

Dafouz, Emma & Ute Smit (2016) ‘Towards a dynamic conceptual framework for English Medium Education in Multilingual University Settings’. Applied Linguistics 37(3). 397–415.

Dafouz, E. and Smit, U. (2020) ROAD-MAPPING English Medium Education in the Internationalised University. Palgrave Macmillan.

Dimova, S. and Kling, J. (eds) (2020) Integrating Content and Language in Multilingual Universities. Cham: Springer.

Kuteeva, M., Kaufhold, K. and Hynninen, N. (eds) (2020) Language Perceptions and Practices in Multilingual Universities. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Macaro, E., Curle, S., Pun, J., An, J. and Dearden, J. (2018) ‘A Systematic Review of English Medium Instruction in Higher Education’, Language Teaching 51: 36–76.

Wächter, B. and Maiworm, F. (2014) English-Taught Programmes in European Higher Education. The State of Play in 2014. ACA Papers on International Cooperation in Education. Bonn: Lemmens.

Wilkinson, R. (2017) ‘Trends and Issues in English-Medium Instruction in Europe’, in K. Ackerley, M. Guarda and F. Helm (eds), Sharing Perspectives on English-Medium Instruction. Bern: Peter Lang, 35–75.

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