A Euro Welcome in English

Report finds significant increase in master's programs taught in English in continental Europe.


October 10, 2013

A  growing number of  master's programs are being offered in English, a study suggests.

A total of 6,407 master’s programs in the language were offered on the Continent as of June of this year – a 38 percent rise over the 4,644 courses available just 18 months earlier, according to a report by the Institute of International Education.

That total was 10 times higher than the overall number offered in 2002, says the report.  The study is based on course listings from the Study Portals website, which provided information from 1,200 public and private universities in mainland Europe. Programs in English account for almost a third of the 21,000 master’s courses advertised on the site in continental Europe, the report indicates.

The increased selection of continental master’s programs in English may explain why applicants visiting Study Portals are becoming less likely to search for courses in Britain, the report suggests. Britain's share of page views fell from 31 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2013, while Germany’s share rose from 14 percent to 18 percent over the same period. Interest in courses in Sweden and France also increased.

"Interest in the UK from potential master’s students is still strong and it is growing, but it is not growing as fast as interest in other countries," said Elias Faethe, head of Study Portals’ Intelligence Unit, who co-authored the report. "If you look at the main competitor countries to the UK in Europe, they are all pushing forward their efforts to attract high-quality international students, and English-taught courses are a way to do this."

Several Scandinavian countries appear to have switched almost all their postgraduate teaching to English, the report says. Some 708 master’s courses in Sweden were taught in the language this year – an increase of 73 percent on 2011 figures and more than four times the number offered in 2007. The Netherlands provides the highest number of English-taught master’s degrees on the Continent, with 946 available compared with 386 six years ago. Meanwhile, Germany has 733 master’s programs taught in the tongue this year – up from just 88 in 2007.

In France, where a law banning teaching in anything but French is loosely enforced, the number of master’s programs available in English has soared from just 11 in 2007 to 494 this year. Teaching master’s courses in English was just one of several moves by a number of countries to attract intelligent, highly skilled students to stay in the long term, Faethe said. "There is a clear direction towards more internationalization, particularly in Germany, which is doing so for demographic reasons," he said.

With Asian countries such as China and Hong Kong also offering courses in English, Britain may struggle to attract the same number of international postgraduates, especially given the governing coalition’s decision last year to shut down the post-study work visa route, said Daniel Stevens, international students officer at the National Union of Students. "The traditional destinations to study in English," such as Australia, Britain and the United States, "are no longer a given,” he said. "Other countries are realizing the benefits of attracting international students and, crucially, their governments are behind them, offering visas that include the chance of working afterwards."

The growth in master’s courses in English reflected "the desire of students to operate internationally in the world’s working language," a British Council spokesman argued. "However, the language a course is taught in is just one part of the attraction: students want to learn in English, but then also speak English outside the lecture hall." He added: “The UK attracts more new higher education students than any other country in the world, and research shows that the overall teaching and learning experience the UK provides makes the difference."


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