Policy factors and institutionalisation

The interlocking processes of course and curriculum development precede the implementation of Business English programmes. Although these processes also apply to Business English teaching designed for intensive, in-company courses, the focus is placed here on Higher Education, where the implementation of such programmes is constrained by several factors. Business English is an interdisciplinary endeavour that has to accommodate the demands of a great variety of stakeholders located at different levels of the academic hierarchy, as well as being accountable to policymakers outside Higher Education. This complex interplay among the glocalising forces of today’s market-based education generates a dynamics of its own, touching on fundamental issues such as the nature of the Business English programme, its status within the business school curricula or the discipline behind the programme.

Most fully-fledged, English-taught Business English/Business Communication programmes are situated at (post-)graduate level, at least in Europe. Here the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries are top-ranked in the provision of English-medium instruction in Higher Education (Wachter and Maiworm 2015). BA programmes, by contrast, are mainly minor study programmes (earning between 30 and 60 ETCS points), service programmes or modules branching out from a common-core element such as International Business Administration. It is not always clear whether the core curriculum as a common body of knowledge involves English-medium instruction throughout or is to be delivered in several languages, including the students’ first language.

Above all, these programmes tend to be anchored in social sciences departments or schools of management rather than schools of language and communication, which minimises the chances of implementing a linguistically-oriented syllabus. More likely, Business English will be one of several sub-competencies in an overall business-centred curriculum. This positioning, however, may give rise to conceptual inconsistencies that can be pedagogically challenging, particularly for undergraduate students. More often than not, content and language are not sufficiently integrated, let alone carefully orchestrated (Peters et al. 2014). This runs counter to the view expressed by Kankaanranta, Louhiala-Salminen, and Karhunen (2015:137) that, “as in all education, it is crucial to design the curriculum, courses, and assignments in such a way that they support each other and that the particular learning outcomes are achieved”.

This debate goes to the heart of what is at stake here, namely the crucial question as to where Business English is to be anchored in the framework of English for Specific Purposes. As illustrated in Table 14.1 above, the classification of Business English is ambivalent as Business English may be classed as English for Academic Purposes or English for Occupational Purposes. Since it is used in both Higher Education and the workplace, neither linguistic description nor context permits any more straightforward classification. But the educational purpose will. Surely, Business English courses anchored in English for Academic Purposes are to be seen as incorporating broader educational purposes than those defined as target needs in the workplace. This view would be in accordance with the original definition of English for Specific Purposes/Languages for Specific Purposes as “a distinctive approach to language education that focuses on the particular linguistic features, discourse practices, and communicative skills used by target groups” (Hyland 2012b: 2281). While education and skills training - the sort of thing done in English for Occupational Purposes in Business - need not be mutually exclusive (Alexander 1999a), both would be integral to a new learning-centred approach to English for Specific Purposes.

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