Neoliberal EAP: are we all neoliberals now?

Over* the past 40 years or so universities have undergone profound changes that call into question the values and purposes of universities, the roles they hold in civic society and nature of the knowledge that is produced there. Successive governments, driven by neoliberal ideology**, have imposed a raft of unending reforms, directives and legislation to force universities (quite willingly?) to become embodiments of free market dystopia (just one irony is that the neoliberal university requires so much more regulation, auditing, management, legislation and control to ensure that its functioning is congruent with neoliberal principles).

The nefarious and pernicious effects of neoliberal ideology on universities are damming and vast. One pernicious effect (among many) of this is the positioning of students as consumers and teachers as sellers of educational products. The ‘student is expected to serve as the personification of market forces’ (Furedi, 2011:3). This fuels consumer fantasy (Haywood et al. 2011) as to the lifestyle, economic wealth and social status that a qualification will entitle the holder to expect and demand. Education is a means to aspirational vocational and economic ends – indeed success governments attempt to transform universities into catalysts of economic wealth (the ‘knowledge economy’). Through a process of commodification students are encouraged to perceive education in terms of their access and entitlement to wealth and social capital, they tend to avoid experimentation, risk-taking, intellectual challenges and manifest conservative attitudes towards learning in order to maximise their chances of academic success (Nixon et al., 2011). The ‘student experience’ is just one of the many neoliberal euphemisms that litter university websites, documents and brochures (internationalisation – being another). A pernicious side effect of the neoliberal attempt to transform universities is the surely connected concurrent rise of therapeutic education alongside an increasingly illiberal, censorious and conformist university.

Employability and student satisfaction are now key metrics in determining how desirable a university is. Lecturers (and universities) are judged, ranked and promoted depending on a range of metrics (research output, income generation, public engagement, knowledge transfer, scores from students, workload, administration, managerial responsibilities…). It seems everything can and must be measured and ranked. There are gongs for these things too.

I could go on (and on) but I won’t. There is a growing and significant body of research and publications that set out the many effects of neoliberalism on universities and they make the case much more articulately than I can. What does EAP (through its publications) have to say about the neoliberal university? What are the impacts of neoliberalism on practitioners of EAP?

In turning to discuss the first question one could turn to JEAP, the flagship publication in EAP, which claims in its editorial policy that ‘no worthy topic relevant to EAP is beyond the scope of the journal’. Apart from a special edition on Critical EAP in 2009, in which neoliberalism wasn’t properly or fully analysed in any case, JEAP has systematically failed to discuss the socio-economic structures that shape the praxis of teaching EAP. It is as if the structural conditions and ideologies that permeate our professional lives simply do not exist or are not worthy of investigation. Titles in the current edition of JEAP are fairly typical of its preoccupations e.g. ‘Learning academic formulaic sequences’, and ‘Nominal stance construction in L1 and L2 students’ writing’. Worthy and useful perhaps, but hardly indicative of a worldly stance to the teaching of EAP. In her final editorial piece Liz Hamp-Lyons sums it up well:

The socio-political and economic imperatives for the rise of EAP we described in 2002 are, if anything, more serious and indeed deeper issues than they were then; but they have barely appeared in the pages of JEAP in recent years. Sarah Benesch guest edited a Special Issue of JEAP in 2008 (8, 2) but there seems to have been little uptake, at least in this journal. The overt use of the international student ‘market’ by governments to shore up the finances of universities is an embarrassment to many of us, and is discussed in small fora and face to face among EAP teachers and programme managers, but is not found in the research literature.

The future of JEAP and EAP Volume 20, December 2015, Pages A1–A4

The problem is compounded in JEAP because it projects a disciplinary identity for EAP that includes neither the voices of practitioners nor their concerns. It is as if EAP exists in an ideological vacuum. Simply put, apart from the occasional presentation (a link to one I did) or paper there is little in JEAP or the literature more generally that tackles issues relating to neoliberalism, the university and the EAP practitioner.

Why this silence persists bemuses me and I find it difficult to account for. The rise of EAP (more than) coincides with the advent of neoliberal education and is perhaps a result of neoliberal policies. The existence of EAP (in terms of employing many teachers in universities) has been dependent on universities marketing and recruiting international students in greater and greater numbers. Attracting students paying large fees to benefit (financially) the university is unrelenting and EAP has emerged as a result of this. In an important sense EAP is a product of neoliberal policies and our existence (apart from perhaps as a somewhat esoteric discipline) depends on capturing international students.

That there is money to be made from EAP is quite evident. Study Group, which offers ‘partnerships’ with universities to provide EAP courses, is owned by Providence Equity (you can get a flavour of what they are like here). Other private providers (owned by shareholders, hedge funds et al.) also compete to seduce universities into profitable partnerships. EAP centres are also often expected to generate profits for the university. It is far from uncommon to hear papers talk about the EAP industry or to discuss EAP students in terms of customers. Not only is the academic field of EAP almost silent on neoliberalism but it seems practitioners perhaps have diverse views on the relationship between neoliberalism and EAP (or its significance to EAP). Why is there so little public discussion among practitioners about the economic structures that shape our work? Perhaps the (oppressive) dominance of neoliberal discourse more generally over a number of years has dulled the imagining of credible alternatives? It might be bad but what alternative is there? What can or should we do in any case? Perhaps we have profited from the rise in neoliberalism and have no wish to criticise? Perhaps discussions of this type seem abstract and far removed from the classroom? Whatever the reasons, and I’m sure there are a great many, it appears that the structural conditions which shape our lives are not discussed.

So, this post is an invitation to discuss this further. To continue to ignore discussing the structures that shape our lives will only limit our ability to understand them and to find ways to navigate them. Ignoring this also obscures the complexity of (and materiality of) teaching EAP in universities, it avoids questions of how best to prepare students for (neoliberal) university study and leaves unanalysed our (ideal) place, identity, autonomy and roles in universities.

Two more posts will follow shortly, one from me discussing some approaches we might take to navigate the neoliberal university and one from an ex-student and EAP practitioner.

* I’d like to think that previous posts on this blog (by others at least) have been thoughtful, carefully written, referenced and based on professional investments, interests and/or expertise. Not so this entry. I have no claims of any kind of authority to write about neoliberalism whatsoever. However, I feel compelled to write something about neoliberalism and EAP because I want to know what you think and because we (EAP Practitioners) rarely (at least in publications) debate the socio-ideological forces that shape our praxis, discourse, identity and purpose.

** “Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defence, police and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture. State interventions in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare minimum because, according to the theory, the state cannot possibly possess enough information to second-guess market signals (prices) and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and bias state interventions (particularly in democracies) for their own benefit”

(Harvey 2005:2).

 

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61 Comments on “Neoliberal EAP: are we all neoliberals now?”

  1. I think this is an important issue and maybe we need to disentangle the different people involved. I would think there are at least the following groups – the entrepreneurs who have autonomy, teachers with some security, the insecure teachers, the students. Some of these have common interests but perhaps are not encouraged to reflect on situation and perhaps also have much to lose even though the current situation does not seem ideal.

    An aspect of a criticism that might be useful is the student voice but the neo liberals often try to turn this voice against the teachers and perhaps especially the most insecure of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Alex Ding says:

      Thank you Patrick for your comments. I think the point about dissentangling the various actors in EAP is a pertinent one. I have taught and know/met many EAP tutors who are existing in precarious sitiuations with uncertain futures regarding job security and/or who struggle to enter the profession. The notion (well more than a notion) that students are consumers (with consumer rights) also fundamentally changes the educational relationship between practitioners and students – it is hardly surprising that we hear, very often, that we provide a ‘service’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your reply, Alex. I think we both dislike the idea of the student as consumer. I suppose I would hope that we have different relationships. This might depend on courses but probably I would want it to be one of the tutor being a critical friend/guide who helps the student to think about the kinds of linguistic choices there are and the implications of these for what they want to do. This might not seem the quickest way for students to get through the courses with the best marks although in the long run, this is the ideal.

        The students may be encouraged to think of themselves as customers in all the courses they take and expect good marks in return. This may lead to courses being easy to pass, which seems to be against the academic tradition that should deal with the complex, difficult issues. Collini has written that students should be dissatisfied at times as learning can be disruptive to our ways of thinking.

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  2. Very cogent and insightful. And to think that your EAP group is owned by Providence Equity…it would laughable were it not a tragic manifestation of the damage that neoliberal thinking is doing to the fabric of EAP and to the professional lives of teachers.

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    • Sam Talbot says:

      A very timely read, thanks Alex. I find myself disagreeing with the last comment though, for how can there be a fabric of EAP without neoliberal policies? More neoliberalism surely equates to more students, and hence more jobs for EAPers, right? Under what other economic framework would we be assured work? This needs to be admitted, addressed, understood. Having worked in the profession since 2006 in various HE and partnership models, I have experienced or been privy to much of this banter which sadly goes no futher. I suggest this is because many are opting to work for institutions or corporations that espouse the very principles (rightly deemed pernicious) which they (secretly) rally against but, in many cases, can see no “credible alternative” to, as many more in-house models are being taken over by third party providers (if you aren’t working for one now you soon will be). The result of which is an internal conflict of interests depending upon the person and their willingness and capacity to be reflexive (and is this surely not a moral issue too?). Or would it be unseemly (or even irrelevant) to talk of ethics here, and if so, then what other discourses could best unpick such pervasive neoliberalist mantra? Why do, what I regard to be, ultimately, questions of identity and personal agency seem to niggle some EAPers and not others?

      But I disagree that I find it “bemus(ing) as to why this silence exists” (as to these structural forces), as I rather suspect a good number of EAPers just don’t want to go there. For why interrogate your own personal and professional standing when you could just as well write about L2…(not due to their own volition or indeterminacy as such but perhaps to their own prevailing sense of powerlessness to either articulate their own positing or to effect change in the wider scheme of things).
      Let us turn to some of the metaphors cited, why would one opt to work for an industry that aimed to “capture students” in the first place? For me, one of the most interesting questions here (and there are many) is “Why is there so little public discussion among practitioners about the economic structures that shape our work”? Could it be that such discourse is simply not of interest other than casual assumptions over an egg sandwich in the staff room? I am interested in this. You are. But not everyone is. And from what it seems, nor is the editor of JEAP (or his potential readership), and more so as there has been no one of note since Benesch guest editing on Critical EAP in 2008 (and besides what EAP isn’t critical?). Why is this? Is it not that the editor is making a (neoliberal!) assumption that EAP readers might not want to read about such things? In other words, is it that it’s too close to home or is it just simply not of interest, or would ‘nominal stance construction’ seem a more profitable place to pour one’s energies in this climate of ‘publish or perish’?

      And yet I’m not sure I agree that such “silence bemuses” me. Anecdotally speaking, I understand that for many EAPers the alternative may well be serving coffee or signing on.

      In addition, I wonder if it takes a certain rigour of intellect and critical faculty in order to want to go there. And I rather suspect it does, as well as time, which most jobbing EAPers just dont have. I’d personally welcome more published material on such themes as, in spite of the euphemisms cited, I rather suspect I won’t be coming across the term “tutor experience” any time soon, and moreover, I might just want to read them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Alex Ding says:

      Thank you very much! And yor book has been instrumental in bringing this aspect of EAP to attention. And your book has been pivotal in helping shape my own thoughts about EAP. If readers havent yet had the chance to read it I would read it now! (https://www.academia.edu/10379028/English_for_Academic_Purposes_in_Neoliberal_Universities_A_Critical_Grounded_Theory)
      It deserves a very wide readership and not only within the EAP community.,

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The moral dimension that Sam, above, alludes to is central to this and relates to what we (those involved in higher education/university – increasingly NOT the same thing!) consider the purpose of University to be.

    The moral question is a normative one, as in ‘what should a University be and do?’. So, is the purpose of a University to further social, environmental, economic justice for all, including access for those who are not rich and including the legacies we leave for future generations? Or is the purpose of a University to further individual gain and personal life chances, as in ‘I want my daughter to go to the best uni so she can become a Providence Equity lawyer?’.

    Each purpose entails enormous implications for curriculum content and design, teaching and learning, assessment constructs, all the things that ‘We “trade” in’ and that We have no autonomy over when privatisation sets the agenda. How can I possibly ‘teach my students’ when I have to teach-to-the-test and teach-the-textbook? How can I spend time deliberating, experimenting, fostering imagination and creativity, provoking and unsettling my students [all things that I consider to be part of a University education] when the neoliberal clocks and meters are ticking?

    Neoliberalism is obliged to foster individual gain at the expense of social cohesion and justice, that is its entire reason for being. And Universities are no longer able to out-think them. By being unable to out-think them, they become Slaves (‘humble servants’, to quote the incoming Editor of JEAP), not Masters.

    So, the debate is moral and hence much wider than what I, as an EAPer might want or be interested in or have time to even think about. It’s true, Sam, that not ‘everyone’ cares about it. But they should. And fortunately, many do, and that is where change occurs.

    Of course we all need a salary, but equally we also need a just, deliberative, and sustainably democratic society, and neoliberal values are anathema to this kind of vision.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I should probably check the history of higher education before writing this, but I believe that the “open access” model of university education that you describe has not been / was not around for a very long time, and that for most of its existence, universities were the privilege of few. I’m not at all saying that they should be; I agree that it was great that for the second half of the 20th century university education was fairly accessible. It still was when I started my studies in Germany. My point is that the individual gain / life chances aspect probably isn’t new in the big picture.

      And just to reiterate, the neoliberal clock and the private EAP sector are not the same; maybe private providers are a symptom, but in our place at least we know who we are, and I don’t think that we do more teach-to-the-test and teach-the-textbook than many university-based EAP units, and we also do a fair amount of unsettling. It varies across our programmes, but this has much more to do with the assumptions of the respective EAP managers than with our legal structure. I don’t think you meant to imply that it’s the same thing, but wanted to contribute this insight/situation. And many of my colleagues do care about the economic framework we operate in, although we might not explicitly label it as neoliberal.

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      • Dr Alex Ding says:

        Thanks for this insight. I agree that conflating practitioners working for private providers with the motivations of the private providers would be very unfair. We do what we can in whatever context we find ourselves in. I’m not really even very sure that you can, often, distinguish between the two. As a principle I don’t think companies, private enterprise, should have any role in education. It’s a public good. But that principle is certainly not to be used to judge those of us who work for these companies. That would be disingenuous and simply unfair,

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  4. Alannah Fitzgerald says:

    A most welcome discussion. I suggest we approach JEAP with a proposal for a special issue on critical EAP and the neoliberal uni. If they’re not up for it then let’s take it elsewhere. What do you think?

    I look forward to the next couple of posts, Alex, to carry things forward.

    And, for anyone who hasn’t yet read Gregory Hadley’s book, EAP in neoliberal universities: a critical grounded theory (https://www.academia.edu/10379028/English_for_Academic_Purposes_in_Neoliberal_Universities_A_Critical_Grounded_Theory), I’d recommend it as essential reading for this discussion.

    With all good wishes,
    Alannah

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  5. From where I’m standing (insecure sessional EAP teacher) ‘teachers as sellers of educational products’ doesn’t sound too bad! Not because I agree with the principle (which I don’t) but because at least it sounds like a definite role, something with a purpose! ‘Seller’ even sounds quite important! It’s a step up from commodity! It feels like the student experience is all, but the teacher experience is swept under the carpet! But then I’m not going to say that off social media as I’ll look like I’m moaning…and I do on it I can people saying! No, I’m far more likely to talk about ways to improve writing skills etc or say I’ve read about them in work or interview circles, as I’ll feel it puts me in a more enthusiastic and positive light! I’m not surprised people don’t want to talk about economic structures at all!

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    • …and if a package of student experience plus a certificate is sold (via agents), the teaching staff can be degraded to after-sales service! That’s also a defined role, but less important (to whom?) than those doing the selling…
      but I guess the student recruitment realm is not what you’re getting at here, although it’s definitely part of the neoliberal situation we’re in.

      Like

    • Dustin Hosseini says:

      But the purpose of *any* educator is not to sell anything – the purpose of an educator is to educate: to facilitate the understanding and acquisition of knowledge (which can include skills) in an environment in which education is the key goal. This includes supporting students so that they begin to understand how, for example, to write rather than merely failing them because they can’t. A neoliberal perspective, I think, will fail that student and/or then seek to take more funds from the failing student to “support” them.

      I highly recommend that you read works by John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky and Paulo Freire before deciding that your purpose as an EAP teacher is to merely “sell” educational products. You are, I believe, by settling on that false role, underestimating and perhaps even denigrating your role and the roles of the students.

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    • But the purpose of *any* educator is not to sell anything – the purpose of an educator is to educate: to facilitate the understanding and acquisition of knowledge (which can include skills) in an environment in which education is the key goal. This includes supporting students so that they begin to understand how, for example, to write rather than merely failing them because they can’t. A neoliberal perspective, I think, will fail that student and/or then seek to take more funds from the failing student to “support” them.

      I highly recommend that you read works by John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky and Paulo Freire before deciding that your purpose as an EAP teacher is to merely “sell” educational products. Those authors, and many others, can help you redefine the purpose for teaching. You are, by settling on the “seller” role, underestimating your role and the roles of your own students.

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      • Dr Alex Ding says:

        Thanks for this Dustin – we certainly need to draw on ideas and texts from beyond EAP to help us structure what we understand education to be for. Often the broader educational philosophy is absent from EAP. A great shame.

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  6. Emma Lay says:

    An enjoyable and provocative read Alex, not only because these thoughts seem germane to everyday discussions in our EAP ‘staff rooms’ (certainly in mine) but because there seems to be growing discontent (dissent?) in the higher education sector as a whole on the ramifications this marketisation and commodification of education will have.

    I agree that our ‘public’ silence is ‘bemusing and difficult’; this may be because it’s hard to articulate when we are perhaps still figuring out how it all impacts on us and TEAP’s relation to it. I feel like we are getting swept along by/with the neoliberal tide and have little time to catch our breath as we are kept busy with initiatives of internationalisation and other, as you rightly suggest, euphemisms (as well-meaning as they may be to their educational advocates). They are issues of paramount importance and I sense an urgency to seek answers to our questions about EAP practitioner identity, the aims of (T)EAP, etc. in relation to these but finding the appropriate discourse frameworks is the challenge.

    I recently attended a talk by Mike Neary about radical student participation (see my recent tweets) and he stated that the reality (as much as we may dislike it) is that students are, in a legal sense, consumers so we must work to change the system from the inside out. This was good food-for-thought despite my desire to ‘fight the system’. It seems there may be extant frameworks in the disciplines of sociology and political science we can turn to for inspiration?! A special interest group or some such cooperative endeavour could be created to explore and publicly disseminate responses to these issues. I’d be in!

    Thanks Alex for verbalising what many of us are thinking. I look forward to future posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a breath of fresh air to read, Alex (and comments too).

    I just (this month) summitted my Ed.D. dissertation looking at this ‘nefarious’ (I love Alex’s use of that word to describe it) neoliberal discourse, and its implication in HE – in my case I look at its implications for students at branch campuses – universities desperate to reach out to their ‘cash cows’ (Forkert, 2011, p. 168). I argue in it – and I think its so important in who we are as practitioners – that we have to engage with the discourse, analyse it, and question where we stand and if we ‘agree’ to our place in it – to be marketized beyond our economic spheres. I work in a department, like so many of us EAP teachers, that is in constant threat of being ‘outsourced’ to outside providers, and that brings a feeling of uncertainty. Yet, rather than question the very framework that makes us outsourceable (and how that positions us), I see a common reaction to be to out compete the private providers.

    For me (and I only speak for me), I feel that we as practitioners (and academics) need to question, critique, and disrupt – in my own work with students, that place of disruption has always come by creating discursive space in my teaching to allow student to explore who they are beyond a neoliberal identity that requires them to ‘perform’ ‘compete’ and be molded into a commodity to be sold on the labour market. And, if that is what I want to ‘give’ my students (the discursive space), then I also want (desire, hope for) discursive spaces where we practitioners of EAP can do the same of our practice. This is why I love Alannah’s idea of having a special issue of the JEAP on neoliberalism in our fields. I wholly support the idea, would love to submit an article for it, and whatever else would be needed to have it happen.

    Alex? Gary? Emma? Any takers?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Alex says:

      I will respond to this later today – I have a suggestion to make …

      Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree Sara, and your EdD sounds like it’ll be a really interesting read. I also agree that disruption and action are necessary – too often it’s all just talk, but at least if ideas like this are shared in a JEAP special issue then that’s a start. I think though there is value in working with those like-minded across our institutions and beyond. We are not the only ones whose jobs are so reliant on international ‘markets’, many courses would cease to exist were it not for ‘our’ students. I’d find it hard to name one Business School that would survive a u-turn on internationalisation!! There’s a lot going on in opposition to these neo-liberal times, I think we need to be better represented there. While I agree EAP needs to ‘do’ ideology (as Gary Riley-Jones suggested on Twitter recently), I also think we need to join in more with those already doing it!

      Thanks Alex for giving this topic a much needed airing!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Sara,
      Your EdD sounds very interesting, have you written about the topic elsewhere? Someone in my team is very interested in anything to do with branch campuses.
      I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “out compete private providers”, could you maybe explain?

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  8. Dr Alex Ding says:

    First of all, thank you for your replies! I, and others, will no doubt add comments in the next few days…
    There was a suggestion by Alannah to approach JEAP for a special edition on neoliberalism – with a few voices supporting the idea. This is a good idea i think but i have some reservations: firstly, whilst I’d love to see this and help take it to JEAP my concern is that it will (if the editiors agree in any case) be a ‘one off’ (in much the way critical EAP has been in JEAP). A kind of ‘niche’ topic and then a return to normal. Secondly, I am not sure that a more general problem of lack of visibility of practitioner perspectives would be addressed (I have already spoken very informally to JEAP about a special edition on the practitioner by the way) by a special edition. and again, once done, a return to normal. Despite my unhedged critique of JEAP – because of citiation metrics, publish or peril imperatives practitioners are always going to struggle to get published in JEAP in competition with those that have research profiles and duties to publish. JEAP will, I suspect, always (as with journals in applied linguistics and TESOL) be flooded by articles from researchers (thus accentuating the praxis/research divide that I hinted at in my post). I will get back to JEAP about a special edition though and report back what I am told.

    So, I have an alternative. I am in the early stages of setting up an international journal of EAP for practitioners. I have institutional support from the University of Leeds to do this. I have also spoken to a few people over the past year or so to ascertain whether this is a feasible and useful idea. The general consensus is yes – not to compete with JEAP at all and not to attempt to cover the same territory (naturally some aspects will overlap). The aim is to provide a space for practitoners (but also others in higher education who might have something to say to us and we to them) to write in different (experimental) genres, to tackle a wide range of interests and concerns (including the topics covered in this blog and elsewhere) through rigourous scholarship (which may or may not include ‘research’). The journal will not have any kind of metric attached, and will have a different ethos and approach to other journals (no paywall, multimodal, interactive, free).

    I don’t want to be coy about discussing this in more detail now but I am still at a draft stage and still working on producing something for you to contribute to, critique, and help shape. I hope to have much more detail in the next 5-6 weeks and will give all the details then. I will post an annoucement on the blog, social media and other places. The aim is to offiically launch the journal late 2016 to begin in 2017.
    Keep the comments coming!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Emma Lay says:

      A very good point Alex that maybe a one-off issue will take this issue out of the spotlight once the next volume comes out! I look forward to seeing what a Journal for EAP Practitioners (JEAPP?) might include…are you thinking praxis rather than theory? I’m intrigued!

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    • I agree with Alex. But in a way, a one off in JEAP might serve as a springboard later for Alex’s journal…because papers in JEAP can be referenced in the other journal, and links create links…

      There is also the need for it to be as accessible to EAP teachers as possible, but to also create some sort of reviewer-based respectability. The new teachers who feel like they are fortunate for being exploited and deprofessionalized…I think the journal would make a great contribution towards reaching them.

      Anyway, I will be interested in hearing about this in due course. Oh, and thanks Alannah for the nice words.

      Greg

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      • Dr Alex Ding says:

        Hello Greg, I take your point (and others) about not thinking of an either/or solution to JEAP and publishing in general. Persisting with promoting practitioner scholarship in various places is much better.

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      • Hi Alex — Indeed. After I posted my comment, I began to wonder if an expression of Critical Perspectives in JEAP might not end up being ‘kettled’ — in that our insights, passion, and calls for positive action would be contained in JEAP where it could burn to a cinder, and not reach anyone for whom the message was intended. I feel confident that you know the best way to get the message out.

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    • Excellent idea Alex, it would be great to see a journal committed to EAP pedagogy (and a very good read in your blog too)

      Carole

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      • Dr Alex Ding says:

        Thank you Carole! I’ll be talking about the ideas and scope of the journal on the blog, to start with, very soon. I really hope that you and others will be part of it and make the journal a lively, dissenting and scholarly forum.

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  9. Susie Cowley says:

    Very excited to see what great stuff your journal generates. EAP needs a good kick up the proverbial! And pleased to see it getting a potential launch date. Finally.

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  10. I love the idea of a place for scholarly ‘musings’ for practitioners as a long lasting space. I am also the fan of the open access ethos you seem to be imaging behind it. Let us all know if, how, and when you need help (and what kind of help) – either virtually or otherwise… after all, York is only a 20 min train ride away.

    And I look forward to hearing how JEAP responds to the special issue idea.

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  11. John Sutter says:

    Hi – Really interesting blog, and interesting comments on it too. I have to say I find myself in a very difficult position in relation to this debate. I too work in HE, and am ostensibly the strategy lead for language and ‘learning development’ (very neoliberal terminology, eh?) at UCA. But – like some doubting priest – I’m having real problems with at least two broad central ‘tenets’ of our field. 1)’EAP is a good thing’ / EAP will set you free / emancipatory – and hence neoliberal – views of language/literacy teaching: Isn’t EAP – along with EFL/ESOL – by its very nature an ideologically driven enterprise, in particular that certain types/varieties of language are needed to discuss and make knowledge, or to participate in society? It seems to conflict with so much in critical linguistics /literacy studies nowadays, – multilingual and ‘local’ understandings of communication, applied linguistics as a pseudo science, the illusion of grammar, language versus ‘languaging’, the maintenance and reproduction of power structures through particular varieties of language and through schooling……. I could go on!
    2) ‘Universities are a good and necessary thing’ : Are they though? I’m not sure universities have any unique purpose now beyond a form of societal ‘schooling’. Knowledge and research now seem to be produced across many diverse settings – and as someone once said, ‘there are many ways to know’. With the collapse of ‘objectivity’ – particularly outside the sciences – what makes ‘research’ and ‘knowledge’ just matters for ‘the academy’? Who is ‘the academy’ anyway? I’m certainly thinking that schools, colleges and universities as ‘institutions’ are intrinsically bound up with neoliberal ideologies and the social order (and have always been) , and that this operates largely through our field – language.
    Ethical dilemmas all around!
    Please forgive the rush I am writing this in – off to a meeting now (about language assessment!) – and the consequent probable lack of clarity, but wanted to get something down…
    John

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Talbot says:

      John, I really like your angle here, very relevant and perhaps more peripheral points which particularly interest me. Alex, I agree that a ‘special issue’ presents certain limitations and although I am in favour of your alternative suggestion in principle, what occurs to me is that by establishing the publication as (or being primarily for) ‘practitioners’ we would be therefore perpetuating hierarchal prejudices by distinguishing between teachers and researchers (and more so in our understanding of ‘inclusivity’, for example). I’d be in favour of a journal that made room for the issues John and other commenters have raised here but I wonder if it will be possible, through its identity and necessary categorisation (and hence target audience) not to further consolidate the often problematic divide between the status of the researcher and the teacher practitioner. The open access and democratic approach Alex has outlined is most encouraging and I particularly value the emphasis on various genres and voices which might embody alternative paradigms as to those more commonly explored in JEAP.

      Like

      • Dr Alex Ding says:

        Hi Sam,thanks for your comments here – I very much take your point and I’ll discuss this more fully in my next post. There is a need to both open spaces for debate WITHIN EAP (for the types of things discussed here and elsewhere) and also to forge strong links elsewhere (as Susie also argues). The journal can’t meet all needs in this respect but is part of a larger process of attempting to initiate change in higher education. Anyway, i shall attempt to explain more in the next blog post…

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Silvina says:

    These are indeed very interesting and thought provoking comments. I completed my MA TESOL two years ago on the ethical issues that surround the teaching of EAP in HE, and critical pedagogies, pragmatism and neoliberalism were certainly some of the key issues discussed. I did notice while reviewing the literature that there seemed to be a considerable gap since 2009, which I found surprising as I believe these discussions are still current and I agree, are probably much deeply rooted now. Since submitting the work, I have had the intention to write up an article on it. However, from conversations at work, I have felt there was no interest in the subject due to its lack of practical application to teaching. I am, hence, pleases that those discussions are still relevant and would be very keen to participate in whatever options may arise (special issue in JEAP or new practitioner orientated journal).

    Like

    • Dr Alex Ding says:

      Hi Silvana! I think there is interest – its just that there is a lack of public space to debate these issues (sadly). I hope the journal will be that space and also space for all sorts of other (problematic and stimulating) aspects of our work which is somewhat obscured at the moment. If you’d like to write a blog entry for this blog – contact me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Silvina says:

        Thanks, Alex. I will try to get something in black and white and shall get back to you. Many thanks for the offer.

        Like

  13. A particular cause of unease for me, is the – well the only word I can think of is colonisation of higher education overseas. The debate here has been very UK centric, but what damage is being done by UK HEis’ neoliberal practices overseas? EAP is party to this too.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Dr Alex Ding says:

    I started out thinking I would comment on all the comments (to thank you for your thoughts and also to add my thoughts to yours) … What i will do is try to incorporate your stimulating critiques and comments in my follow up posting – which is much more about how we might navigate the conditions we find ourselves in. You have provided so much food for thought! And I am hoping that others will add their thoughts over the next few days – I’m especially curious to hear from anyone who has a distinctly different position than the one I have taken or from those who have already commented. Not everyone (and indeed WE might be in a minority) perceives the current situation as being problematic at all or our concern. I don’t hear much support for the way things are among EAP practitioners – again at least not publically. This renders serious discussion and debate all the more problematic…. Anyway, please keep the comments coming!

    Like

  15. Wow! What a great response to your post, Alex – this is what blogs should be doing. I really hope dissenting voices do emerge. I also hope our students are reading this and have something to say ….

    The short LSE post below addresses what it means to be and think neo-liberally. It’s by someone who doesn’t like the neo-liberal perspective and highlights its inherent contradictions (namely, that it distorts what placing ‘value’ on something means), but who is also able to articulate what neo-liberalism means, how it manifests itself in our everyday actions, and how our every-day thinking is affected by it:

    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/01/29/how-to-think-like-a-neoliberal/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+feedburner%2FLSEImpactBlog+%28LSE+Impact+Blog%29

    As an EAPer, it is not immediately obvious to me what being or not being ‘neo-liberal’ means: does it mean accepting a job from X ‘HE provider’ via a commercial corporation such as Providence Equity, or does it mean receiving my salary from the entrepreneurial networked globally and student-financed university? Or is it teaching from published textbooks rather than from a negotiated syllabus made up of crowd-sourced materials? Or is trying to get published by Elsevier rather than by a truly Open Access journal (ie not one that then charges authors £2000 to be available OA)? Or is it my very act of teaching (in) English that makes me an endorser of and conduit for imperialist values?

    My own motivations for teaching what I teach are based on a fascination with languages and on giving the Excluded a voice in a dominant language (I could have done other [certainly more financially lucrative] things, so EAP was not my only option). I’ve always been of the view that it is then up to each student to do what they want with that voice, including becoming neo-liberal perpetrators!

    Does simply being involved in a system, therefore, make me neo-liberal?

    What exactly is it that we (don’t) do that makes us neo-liberal?

    And if EAP is the ‘Humble Servant’ of the Academy, then why does any of this matter?

    Thinking ‘allowed’ …

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi,

      I don’t think my view is “distinctly different”, although my perspective might be. I also found Greg Hadley’s book an eye-opener (see https://bellatesol.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/neoliberal-influence-in-higher-education-and-on-eap/), and working for a private provider, the commodification of education can be seen everywhere – for example, my employer explicitly advertises “the student experience” as its most important selling point (making me feel, if not redundant, then sometimes a second-class employee in the company structure), and in addition to a dedicated student experience team, the teachers are encouraged to provide some of it for free in their own time (the “tutor experience”?). However, I don’t want to engage in private-provider-bashing (and not only because my contract specifies that I must be a positive ambassador for the company); I’m sure that much of what makes my workplace part of the neoliberal system applies to a similar degree in other EAP units of whatever legal/institutional structure.

      When reading through all these comments, I thought of the workshop that I want to do at the St Andrews EAP conference later this month – my question there is whether EAP teachers should specialise in teaching students from a particular discipline (if they are given the chance), and I found that reading this discussion sounds a lot less scary to my Business teacher self than to my EAP teacher / linguist self. Maybe I’m getting too used to the business terminology through teaching business students, so that it sounds normal to me to talk about “customers”?

      Like

  16. Ian Bruce says:

    Thank you Alex for this post, which raises important questions for EAP. EAP has developed as a (lucrative) commercial activity of universities in the UK and elsewhere. (New Zealand, where I work, is no exception.) This commercialism has coincided with the corporatization of universities and the era of NPM (new public management). In relation to EAP practitioners, I would like to raise the following questions, which raise issues that I alluded to in my talk at the last BALEAP:
    • Do EAP practitioners see themselves principally as ‘client-focused’ employees of a commercial organization or as academics engaged in a research-informed discipline? (I suspect that it is a bit of both, but I would be interested in opinions.)
    • If EAP is seen principally as a commercialized support service, what is the career path for its practitioners?
    • If EAP is seen as an academic discipline, what is the career path for its practitioners?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sam Talbot says:

      Thanks Ian. The disjoint between how EAPers (an interesting abbreviation in itself) principally see themselves to be and how they are perceived to be is primary if, at its core, this is a question of (ethics and) identity as I believe it to be. In my time, like many an EAP practitioner I have been contracted as ‘ ‘teacher’, ‘tutor’, ‘lecturer’, ‘learning development tutor’ and in one university received speculation that we were to be downgraded to ‘teaching assistant’ although this suggestion came under fire and rightly so as many tutors had QTS and had been teaching for some time. I am an anomaly in EAP circles in the sense that I am (currently) on a T&R contract lecturing in embedded EAP for the Creative Arts. This is a niche position which is likely to expire in the near future due to external factors, i.e. market forces; however, I have been very proactive in negotiating the disciplinary boundaries (surely any EAPers’ strength) of my practice in this context and am now being ‘cross-shared’ lecturing in Creative Writing on the undergraduate course. It occurs to me that EAP exists best on the periphery and that as practitioners our (necessarily) interdisciplinary skillset can therefore (repeatedly) come to the fore; however, I am aware of how such a statement could be seen to be in opposition to current debate as to how to reconcile the status of EAP practitioners in the academy and would welcome your thoughts on that.

      Like

    • BEN FINDLAY says:

      Hi Ian, I read your 2011 introduction to EAP book several times while doing my MA in EAP. Thank you. Your point that studemts should be trained in discourse analysis themselves has been very influential in my thinking.

      Like

  17. Simon Gooch says:

    Yes, thank you Alex for the stimulating post, and others who have contributed by delving into the dark corners and catacombs of EAP … I think there are quite a few of us ‘tutors’ who would support a lot of what has been said, and are quite uncomfortable with our position (whatever that is!) in the neo-liberalist pandemic that seems to have taken grip. However, we might not necessarily have the time/voice/confidence to speak out against it as well or as frequently as we might wish. It seems to me, therefore, that almost anything (special JEAP issue, EAP practitioner journal, this blog!) that gives shape to the misgivings clearly many of us feel would be very helpful … please, please continue!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Alex Ding says:

      Thanks simon, when I posted this I was aware that many might not want to comment or worse it would fall on deaf ears. I’m glad that it resonates with some of us at least. I will be writing more about this soon here and hope the comments and ideas keep coming whether in agreement or offering a different perspective…

      Liked by 1 person

  18. BEN FINDLAY says:

    Enjoyed the article and some of the comments very much.

    Neoliberalism has re-balanced the importance given to certain academic values over others. This continuing re-balance is generally popular with students and therefore probably irreversible over the medium term.

    EAP teaching, i think, should broadly reflect the balance of academic values within the given institution. Therefore, these values need to be clear. They appear mot to be to most academics. That is a problem for everyone.

    Like

    • BEN FINDLAY says:

      I just noticed alex’s request for dissenting views. I dont work in UK HE and know much less than most here about its reality. But i’ll have a go by adding to my hastily written comment anyway. Can already feel the ice shifting beneath my feet.

      On balance, i think the neolibralisition of universities is a good thing. Nearly all the criticisms above seem valid but they are only one side of the coin. Trying to measure the unmeasurable seems to have many positive effects as well as negative. If you can’t see them, its because your academic values (almost certainly) do not overlap significantly with most of your EAP students’ or your institution’s values. I think that’s your problem not theirs.

      The extent to which neoliberalism seems to have been driven by student demand is under-appreciated. Government policy and managerialism are usually blamed. But the effects are generally popular with students.

      Any exploration of neoliberalism in EAP needs to consider the positive effects as well. If you can’t see these, you don’t talk to your students properly.

      Got to go.

      Like

  19. Deborah Cobbett says:

    Thanks, Alex, for persevering in keeping this debate going! As a critical friend, I’d first like to take issue with the idea of branding ourselves as EAP practitioners as opposed to the JEAP people. Are they not practitioners? I’d like to propose something more like teapers, both to retain EAP but more to stress that we are teachers, and therefore might look for allies among critical or radical pedagogues, global educators and others involved in fields other than EAP. Maybe we have more in common with many colleages in other disciplines than with middle-of-the-road EAP people?
    Therefore, I’d like to see the debate reaching out beyond the EAP bubble to our teaching colleagues across HE, as we explore other models of ‘internationalisation of HE’, ways of working with the students imported by the marketing departments other than deficit model support. For example, at BALEAP we’ve had talks such as ’embedded with the troops’ exploring collaborative work with colleagues in different disciplines. I think there were further explorations at PIMs, such as the Hallam one, and I’ve presented the wonderful Project Elephant: Internationalisation and Peer Learning, woefully under-publicised, but with a link here.
    Another thing is the range of different kinds of activities going on in HEIs. At Sheffield we have the debate around therapeutic education, a growing Carbon Neutral University Network which is having some success in shifting uni practice towards the knowledge being created here, a new 10 billion initiative, stuff called engaged learning, and then also the We Are International ‘campaign’. Others must have equally diverse things happening – where is the forum to explore these? Are you interested in expanding the forum?

    Like

    • Dr Alex Ding says:

      I’m very interested in EAP making all sorts of connections to others and seeking collaboration. It makes sense to me. I was not trying to create a divide between JEAP and practitioners at all, I was lamenting the fact that there is such a gap. JEAP, publishing in JEAP, is a tough ask for many practitioners because of very obvious reasons such as time to conduct the kind of research that might pass the gatekeepers at JEAP. I was also taking issue with the fact that the type of articles published do not really consider the material, worldly contexts in which EAP is taught. JEAP is fine but limited in many fundamental respects. Research and praxis need to be together and JEAP needs to do more to make sure that happens – if they can.
      Critical friends are what is needed here! And your comments have given me a lot to think about! Thank you!

      Like

  20. George Davson says:

    What’s most disingenuous about this vulgar Marxist diatribe is the lack of acknowledgement that it is only thanks to the marketisation of higher education that EAP exists. Yes, your jobs have all been created by unis who have recruited unlimited numbers of international students who pay a lot of money in fees. This policy is a “neo-liberal” one. So, let’s go back to the pre-1990s where all of you would not be teaching at a university. In fact, you would all still be in Saudi Arabia and Japan playing the roles of professional Englishmen (and to a lesser extent, women).
    Talk about biting the hand that feeds it!

    Like

    • Ian Bruce says:

      Thank you for your thoughts, but I still contend Alex’s post was a good one, raising a number of important issues for EAP practitioners to consider. We need to think about how universities (and EAP itself), are increasingly being shaped by the neoliberal, pro-business agenda, and what our stance in relation to this situation should be. I find raising these issues to be neither vulgar nor particularly Marxist. Also, I feel a bit excluded by your post, as a New Zealander, I could never be a ‘professional Englishman in Saudi Arabia’ – no matter how much I tried to reinvent myself. In saying this, you don’t seem to realize that EAP is a worldwide discipline, and that its teacher practitioners come from a number of countries.

      Like

    • Dustin Hosseini says:

      Well, but this is the similar to the arguments of those claim that no apology to American Indians or Australian aboriginals is needed. No point in looking to the past to our roots because it’s “made” us what we are. That is nonsense and illogical. Whose hands are being bitten? No one’s. A critical analysis of where EAP (and other subjects) has come from helps stakeholders to understand the assumptions and issues underlying the field, and implement change.Not looking back to understand these is, I believe, highly juvenile.

      Like

    • Dr Alex Ding says:

      Thanks George for your insights and helping to elevate the debate. I’m sure you have given everyone a great deal to think about.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi George,

      I’m really glad you said all this because I know that many people think like you. They just don’t consider this issue worthy enough of any comment, so I hope your posting suggests that you care sufficiently about the issues being raised here.

      My riposte chimes with Dustin’s. I would further add that your views are redundantly deterministic, namely that because we ‘came into being’ as a result of neo-liberalism, neo-liberals we shall die. That would be like saying that those born into poverty, forever poor shall remain. Or that if you are born with a disease, no attempt at medical intervention should be made. Or that if you were born into great fortune, you should just keep it all for yourself.

      Apart from such deterministic views being potentially dangerous, I also object strongly to them on the grounds that they justify inaction. And when people don’t act, they can’t change things. And if people can’t change things, they can’t make things better.

      And I suspect that Alex’s intentions are to make things better in EAP – a field that has evolved since the ’60s and that people rely on for jobs, career opportunities and security.

      He could just rest on his laurels since he is one of the ones who’ve ‘done good out of it’.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Paul Walsh says:

    I teach EAP and also count myself as a precarious worker. With others, I started a G+ group where we talk about many of the issues you’ve raised, Teachers as Workers Special Interest Group: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/100289506962281954100 Feel free to join the conversation!

    Upcoming activities: we have a Paulo Freire reading group starting this Sunday. As Freire said himself: “My abhorrence of neoliberalism helps me to explain my legitimate anger when I speak of the injustices to which the ragpickers among humanity are condemned.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr Alex Ding says:

      Hi Paul, I have followed closely your attempts to convince IATEFL to set up a SIG and was dismayed by the responses you got. I’m glad you and others are raising issues of workers rights and I shall always be a critical supporter of your aims. I shall contribute as and when I can. And thanks for posting here. I hope others too take an interest in what you are trying to discuss.

      Liked by 1 person


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