October 2015
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Joyce Kling & Slobodanka Dimova, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Joyce Kling

Slobodanka Dimova

Increasing internationalization of higher education in European countries has led to increased implementation of English-medium instruction (EMI) programs to accommodate for a more diverse staff and student population. This rapid increase of EMI courses and degree programs has caught the attention of international offices and department heads as a means of recruiting students from around the globe to non-Anglophone countries. In a small country like Denmark, where few international and guest students have proficiency in the national language, EMI programs have been in place for more than 20 years. At the start, much of the focus was on course content and availability. However, as the years progressed, concerns pertaining to the adequacy of linguistic proficiency for teaching and learning have been debated across the country.

In March 2003, Universities Denmark (formerly the Danish Rector’s Conference) had noted the changes in language requirements at Danish universities and had issued a report on language policy that included recommendations Danish universities should consider to address the changing needs of the stakeholders involved in the internationalization process. One specific recommendation in this report was that lecturers should have the chance to develop their foreign language and (intercultural) communication skills in order to effectively cooperate with international partners and teach their subject in a foreign language. Additionally, reports on the internationalization of Danish universities the following years specifically recommended that universities should have a policy and guidelines for 1) quality control of teaching in English by nonnative English lecturers, 2) for these lecturers’ in-service training, and 3) higher education institutions’ plan development regarding improvement of lecturers’ linguistic competences.

Parallel Language Use Policy

In response to this call to arms, in 2007 the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe and the largest institution of research and education in Denmark, adopted a parallel language use policy in its university strategy, “Destination 2012.” To support this policy, UCPH launched the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use (CIP) in 2008. This research and language competence training center quickly became engaged in activities linked to the ongoing national debates taking place at the time, which included focus on goals, requirements, and competence of both students and staff for successful teaching and learning in EMI courses.

Based on input from the academic community, as well as discussions in the media, it quickly became apparent that the topic of lecturers’ English language proficiency for teaching in English was high on the agenda. UCPH commissioned CIP to develop an in-house assessment procedure that could be used to certify the English language skills of university lecturers teaching these select graduate programs. This resulted in the development and implementation of the Test of Oral English Proficiency for Academic Staff—TOEPAS®.

Certifying Lecturers’ English Proficiency

The TOEPAS® was developed as an assessment procedure for certifying university lecturers’ English proficiency, which takes the specialized teaching at university level into account. The TOEPAS® assessment method uses a simulated lecture administration protocol, which allows for elicitation of authentic lecturing language while controlling for external influences which may cause irrelevant variation in the speaking performance. The TOEPAS® scale has been specifically designed for assessment of lecturers in the distinctive context of university EMI, in which communication occurs mainly among nonnative speakers of English. This EMI context largely differs from academic contexts in English-speaking countries, where native speakers are largely present in academic interchanges. The six-point TOEPAS® scale has been fine-tuned not only to discriminate between the proficiency levels, but also to help raters produce the formative feedback for lecturers, the intention of which is to raise awareness about each individual's language skills and to provide basis for further language support. The strong connection of TOEPAS® with language support is an assessment feature commonly neglected in standardized assessments. Along with video footage of their performances, lecturers receive written formative feedback describing their English language skills. The feedback and the video are discussed in a follow-up meeting with TOEPAS® examiners. When lecturers do not have sufficient English language skills to be certified, the test provides some diagnostic information about the kind of language training they need to be able to teach at these programs.

Since its conception in 2009, TOEPAS® has undergone a number of analyses to ensure quality and maintain high levels of reliability, validity, and fairness. Since the initial implementation, more than 400 UCPH lecturers have taken the TOEPAS®, the majority of whom come from the natural sciences. Certification of English language proficiency for teaching has become a stable element in the teaching profile of the scientific staff. Once assessed, the lecturers are aware of their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to teaching through the medium of English. Regardless of the result, the requirement to have their language assessed has changed the way the lecturers think about their language. For example, for one lecturer, being certified made her focus more on the way she uses her English on a daily basis; she stated:

I think the certification started a process…and I’m thinking about it every day.…I’m listening more carefully when I’m watching TV and I’m listening carefully how do they say specific words so I think I have become more…I’ve given it more attention now. I’m more aware. (Associate Professor, UCPH, Life Sciences)

The certification process, which provides not only an overall result, but also detailed formative feedback, offers lecturers a benchmark from which to proceed with their own development. The test results can also assist the heads of study boards, heads of departments, and deans in determining who can and cannot teach on the EMI programs. It also provides heads with indirect information on the quality of their EMI programs and thus informs them in their choices of how, to whom, and how much EMI to implement. In addition, the test results provide information for the administration about the type of language training or support lecturers need to be able to teach in the EMI programs. Finally, the data collected from the performances of lecturers from the TOEPAS® inform a training center such as CIP with an extensive needs analysis through which to develop tailor-made in-service training courses. Rather than offering generic courses for improving English proficiency for EMI teaching, CIP draws on an extensive corpus of information for both group and individualized training.

Effective Marketing Tool

In addition, although the original concern about lecturers’ English proficiency was quality control, the inclusion of language testing for lecturers has also been used as a marketing tool. With over 95% of those lecturers who have been through the TOEPAS® assessed as linguistically qualified to teach their subject in English, administrators at UCPH find that documented language proficiency for the teaching staff offers a positive tool in a competitive market. Thus, while initially quite controversial, the consequences of implementing a broad scale language assessment scheme have provided competence development support for staff, as well as a branding tool for the university as a whole.


Dimova, S., & Kling, J. (2015). Lecturers’ English Proficiency and University Language Polices for Quality Assurance. In R. Wilkinson & M. L. Walsh (Eds.), Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education: From Theory to Practice Selected Papers from the 2013 ICLHE Conference.  (pp. 50-65). Frankfurt: Peter Language International Academic Publishers.

Kling, J., & Dimova, S. (2015). The Test of Oral English for Academic Staff (TOEPAS): Validation of standards and scoring procedures. In A. Knapp & K. Aguado (Eds.), Fremdsprachen in Studium und Lehre - Chancen und Herausforderungen für den Wissenserwerb. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Language International Academic Publishers.

University of Copenhagen. (2007). Destination 2012: Strategi for Københavns Universitet 2012. (Destination 2012: Strategy for the University of Copenhagen 2012). Retrieved from http://www.ku.dk/ledelse/bestyrelse/M%C3%B8der/2007/moede23/Pkt.03-strategi_bilag1.pdf 

Universities Denmark. (2003). Sprogpolitik på de Danske universiteter: Rapport med anbefalinger (Language policy at Danish universities: A report with recommendations). Retrieved from: http://www.rektorkollegiet.dk/fileadmin/user_upload/downloads/Sprogpol.pdf

Joyce Kling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her research focuses on teaching and learning in the international classroom, with particular emphasis on foreign language use in English-medium instruction (EMI).

Slobodanka Dimova is an associate professor at the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) Denmark. Her research focuses on language testing and assessment, with particular emphasis on assessment of oral production of academic English.

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