English as a language of instruction and the internationalization of higher education
Field-related competences are clearly enhanced by linguistic capabilities, both at home and internationally, and multilingualism combined with knowledge of other cultures are great assets for graduates competing in a globalized economy. As the drive to internationalize higher education in Israel gains ground, the need for a high level of proficiency in the English language in particular has grown. A communicative, task-based and student-centered approach to language learning, with a more equal focus on all language skills, addresses 21st century needs and increases the relevance of these courses for the students.
Internationalization in higher education has led to an increasing demand for content courses to be taught in English, both to attract international students and to provide an international experience at home for students who do not, for a variety of reasons, participate in exchange programs. In January 2020, the Council for Higher of Israel (CHE) approved a requirement for all Israeli students to study at least two courses in English during their degree, as part of a broad reform of English language teaching in Israel.
For HEIs who are increasing their involvement in programs such as Erasmus+, it is important to ensure that a language support infrastructure is in place to assist students and lecturers who will be studying and teaching in English. The language must at no time be allowed to become a barrier to learning, and institutions should consider the threshold language levels required for students (B2) and lecturers (C1) as part of their preparations for implementing English Medium Instruction (EMI).
The ECOSTAR project, funded via the TEMPUS program (2014-2017), addressed the need to update English language programs in Israeli higher education and to ensure that the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening would be addressed equally within the language courses. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) served as the basis for the development of the CEFR-Aligned Framework for English in Higher Education in Israel, which is part of the reform of the teaching of English in HE and which is already being used by teachers throughout the HE system in Israel as the basis for the reconstruction of their English courses. Enhancing students’ proficiency in all skills in English is crucial for the success of the internationalization process.
The ECOSTAR project also produced the Handbook for English-Medium Instruction in Institutions of Higher Education in Israel which explains the role of English in the process of internationalization, and also provides guidelines and recommendations for content teachers who are will teach their courses in English.