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ICLHE 2003: Meeting the challenges of a multilingual higher education

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The first ICLHE Conference was held at Maastricht University on 23-25 October, 2003. It was a watershed in the emerging field of content and language integration in higher education. It attracted financial support of the European Union, as well as interest from a range of pan-European bodies. Moreover, it attracted participants not just from Europe, but from all five continents, and notably a large delegation from South Africa.

In the promotional documentation, “Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education”, claimed to be “the first conference in Europe to specifically address the interface between content and language, [and] will focus on higher education that is delivered in a second/foreign language in a country where the language is not widely used in the local environment. In most cases, but not all, this concerns higher education in English in a non-English-speaking country.”

Unfortunately, most details are lost. However, to some extent they can be recovered from the key publication stemming from the conference:

Wilkinson, R. (ed.) (2004). Integrating content and language: Meeting the challenge of a multilingual higher education. Maastricht: Universitair Pers Maastricht.

The book, published with the support of the European Union’s Socrates programme, contains 48 chapters, including the contributions from the seven plenary speakers, covering all the diverse strands discussed at the conference.

The conference aimed to unravel the nature of the communication challenge facing higher education institutions: “that learning content through a foreign language implies more than just changing the language of instruction, it also involves the conscious design of programmes that integrate both content and language goals. This is because merely offering programmes through a foreign language without setting performance targets in the use of the content-related language puts the quality and the reputation of both the programme and the institution at risk.” (Introduction, p.10).

The keynote speakers aimed to cover national and local administrative and organizational strategy as well as academic goals.

Geert Hofstede, “Culture and language”.

Paul Holdsworth (European Commission), “EU policy on language learning and linguistic diversity as it relates to Content and Language Integrated Learning and Higher Education”.

Jo Ritzen (President, Maastricht University), “Across the bridge: Towards an international university”.

Anita Lehikoinen (Ministry of Education, Helsinki, Finland), “Foreign language-medium education as national strategy”.

Heinz-L. Nastansky (DAAD, Bonn, Germany), “National strategy in the internationalisation of higher education: The German perspective”.

Vijay Bhatia (City University of Hong Kong, China), “Academic literacy in higher education”.

Kari Smith (Oranim Academic College of Education, Israel), “Studying in an additional language: What is gained, what is lost, and what is assessed?”.

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