The number of international universities offering degree programs taught in English is on the rise.
In particular, the number of English-taught degree programs offered at European schoolsis growing. One study identified 2,389 of these programs in non-English-speaking countries in Europe in 2007, but more than 8,000 in 2014.
Of the programs identified in the study, 80 percent were master’s-level and the rest were bachelor’s-level.
Students and experts say there are pluses and minuses to doing coursework entirely in English in a country where it isn’t the main language.
Few people around the world have the foreign language prowess to earn a degree abroad in a host country’s language, “particularly if we’re talking about studying in non-English-speaking countries,” says Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president at the Institute of International Education.
English-taught programs in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries open up the possibility of international study to a larger pool of students.
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“Being able to experience a totally different culture while still gaining a degree from it was huge,” says Jordan Wagner, a U.S. native who earned a master’s degree in American studies from Heidelberg University in Germany. Her program was English-taught, though she came to the country with what she describes as intermediate German language skills.
Of the 19 students in the program, three were native Germans, around five others knew some German and the others didn’t know the language at all, she says.
Wagner says she’s kicking herself for not keeping up her language studies as much as she could have while in Heidelberg. “I actually kind of joke with my boyfriend that my German got worse when I went into the English-speaking program,” she says.
But international students who are learning in English-filled classrooms can still find ways to experience a host country’s language and culture. For instance, Wagner worked as a nanny for local families in Heidelberg. Many English-taught programs also require or allow students to take courses on the local language.
“It’s not as though they’re living in a bubble and all they’re hearing is English,” says Blumenthal. “They’re surrounded by the host country language all the time: where they’re living, or where they’re going out to eat, or partying, or reading the newspapers, watching TV.”
Additionally, students in English-taught degree programs overseas – as opposed to shorter-term study abroad programs – have the advantage of time, says Paul Sterzel, managing director of University College Freiburg, part of the University of Freiburg in Germany, which offers a four-year, English-taught liberal arts and sciences bachelor’s program.
“Because you’re here for four years you have more time to realize both the advantages of studying in an English-taught program but also being part of the German community, be it at university or outside the university.”
Another benefit of international English-taught programs is that they often attract a diverse group of students. There’s demand among both domestic and international students for these programs in many countries, experts say.
An example noted by Blumenthal is the Schwarzman Scholars program, a one-year master’s program housed at Tsinghua University in China. The program announced its first class of scholars earlier in the year.
The program’s website notes the 111 accepted students hail from 32 countries, with 44 percent of them from the U.S., 21 percent from China and 35 percent from the rest of the world. They will earn degrees in economics and business, international studies or public policy while developing leadership skills and a better understanding of China and its role in global trends, according the program’s website.
But with diverse classrooms come some hurdles.
Wagner, who’s now working on a master’s in international business and emerging markets at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, says that group work in her English-taught program can be challenging.
“Consistently all of my individual assignments have much higher marks than my group work because you have such differing levels of English.”