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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Taking a Bourdieusian perspective, we analyze the relevance of social background and capital for choosing English as a medium of instruction (EMI). Our work focuses on students with a non-native English-language background in a business school setting. Although proponents argue that EMI generally increases graduates' employability, they do not sufficiently consider that study strategies differ substantially across social milieus and between the sexes. Failing to account for cultural distance of students 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 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 & Education
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)5-30
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 01.03.2015
Externally publishedYes