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Content and language integrated learning in postgraduate studies

15 Jul 2019 | Shakila Devi Perumal As part of the Soapbox Sessions on the Health and Social Care Strand of Day 1 of the 2019 Teaching and Learning conference, lecturer Shakila Devi Perumal from Cardiff University sought partners to collaborate with in the investigation of the impact of content and language integrated learning (CLIL) technology in postgraduate curriculum design, assessment and feedback.

Within the context of internationalisation of higher education, Shakila shares her views on how we could improve authenticity of inclusive curriculum for postgraduate studies and widen access for international communities to generate future leaders.


Learners today have to meet the unprecedented challenges of global change. In the 21st century learners focus on attainment of higher order thinking skills (HOTS) which include research, critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaborative interpersonal skills. Over the past two decades of internationalisation, Europe adopted "English" as a language of instruction in higher education grounding the context of "plurilingualism". In the words of Marsh (2001) "A pragmatic European solution to a European need". To respond to international learner's needs there are multilingual education approaches: (1) language across the curriculum, (2) languages for specific purposes, (3) content-based instruction (CBI), (4) immersion programmes, and (5) content and language integrated learning (CLIL).

Multilingual approaches, especially CLIL, are widely recognised and adopted in primary and secondary education across the globe. In contrast, CLIL has been poorly adopted in European higher education and data is scarce (Coleman 2006:5). Learning and teaching in higher education should not only be seen as content specific of a particular discipline but rather space for teaching and learning bilingual language to develop strong personal and interprofessional skills.

To date, there are only two studies across Europe. One is a quantitative study conducted by the Academic Cooperation Association Survey in 2001/02, data from 1500 higher education institution Socrates-Erasmus programmes in 19 countries (Mainworm and Wächter 2002). This study revealed English medium teaching dates back to 1998, launched at postgraduate courses in engineering and business, mostly located in northern Europe (Netherlands and Finland).

The second study was a pan- European survey conducted in 1999-2000 by Ammon and McConnell (2002) in 22 European countries. Data, such as the types and numbers of programmes and students enrolled, start dates, rationales as well as problems and aims were analysed. The survey revealed The Netherlands and Finland, followed by Germany, ranked the highest number of higher education institutions (HEIs) with English-taught programmes. It is highly disappointing there is no single centralised, comprehensive or institutional study on English medium or multilanguage teaching using the CLIL approach in postgraduate studies in the UK. This inarguably unveils the dilemma of authenticity of teaching and learning for international communities in HEIs across the UK. To widen access and attract potential students, who pay fees and demand accountability from their institutions, it is essential to adopt CLIL and to design an inclusive curriculum to support HOTS. Foremost, adding CLIL in postgraduate studies needs a business case for higher education with a goal of attracting 60,000 international students by 2030 set by the UK government’s Department for Education.

It is a great challenge for present-era universities to meet the diverse needs of postgraduate students from different cultural and language backgrounds. Therefore, there is a pressing need to reflect on suitable CLIL pedagogies. Marsh et al. (2001) and Bhatia (2004) illustrate clearly the CLIL dimensions namely, Culture, Environment, Language, Content and Learning. These dimensions are compatible with a set of competencies including social, professional, generic and textual to generate a competent student acquainted with specific generic conventions at an academic level.

It is obvious and undebatable that the focus of postgraduate studies should go beyond language acquisition. The emphasis should be placed on the acquisition of language use in the specific academic and professional settings in which university students are expected to engage for the related postgraduate studies.

Räsänen and Klaassen (2004: 566) rightly pointed out the perspective of adopting CLIL in higher education in the following way: "The dilemma that was recognised for integrated content and language learning in higher education was that academic knowledge and skills cannot be developed if learners do not have access to the kind of language in which that knowledge is constructed, evaluated and discussed and if they do not have ample opportunities to use the language for communication about the content. In other words, becoming an academic expert also means becoming competent in expressing and communicating about that expertise so that the person can be identified as an expert". This draws attention and justifies CLIL to be adopted to elicit value-added learning experience for postgraduate international communities.

In this modern era of technology, there is a strong call for universities to focus on teaching and learning strategies that could generate autonomous or self-directed learners. Therefore, the focus of teaching and learning in higher education should be directed at delivery of good personal and professional knowledge skill sets with fluent English for efficient communication within given specialised professional or academic context.

This project intends to initially survey across wider Europe the use of CLIL in higher education especially postgraduate studies. Secondly, conduct a pilot study using the web-based authoring shell called InGenio (developed by the CAMILLE Group) to design PG curriculum embedding language exercises related to research methodology, appraisal or dissertation module across Europe.

Please get in touch if you would like to collaborate on this project: 


Advance HE Connect

Ms. Shakila Devi Perumal is a lecturer in School of healthcare sciences at Cardiff University. For past 18 years and more she had studied and worked in multiple countries including United Kingdom, Ireland, United States and India. She holds a M.Sc. Respiratory Practice and M.S in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

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