The Future of EAP.

I was discussing the future of EAP with someone at the ESP day at the IATEFL conference recently. It is a complicated question as it depends on international politics and economics. For example, in the UK, the present visa policies and cost of university education and how they change in the future will affect everything connected with HE and therefore EAP. As well as this we need to consider the role of English in the world in the future, including the prevalence of English medium HE and international student mobility – see, for example, Breeze (2012), Jenkins (2014).

What about the role of English in the world?

The overwhelming impression … must be that the language is alive and well, and that its global future is assured. (Crystal, 2003, p. 123)

Traditionally, English has been taught as a foreign language in secondary schools, usually from the age of 11 or 12. This approach allows only six years of learning before leaving secondary school or entering university, which would bring students to, at best, B1 (PET/IELTS 4.0) by the end of their school lives.

However, David Graddol predicts a different scenario:

in which learners begin in primary school, where they learn the basics of the language and then develop the use of English as a language of study in secondary school.  (Graddol, 2006, p. 96.)

This model generates a completely different outcome, with students reaching C1 at the age of 13 or 14.

Therefore as English becomes the second language for the many of the world’s primary schoolchildren, children will grow up who do not need further English lessons of the traditional kind. Indeed, many will be expected to learn curriculum subjects such as maths and science through the medium of English. And, as this generation of children moves through the education system, they will supplant their predecessors in secondary school who were only beginning their study of the language (Graddol, 2006, p. 101).

Consequently, teaching general English in secondary school will fall away and become the preserve of the remedial teacher, helping students who cannot manage in the mainstream classes to catch up. English teaching for older learners is likely to become focused on subject specialisms. In this way, the pattern which has only recently emerged in the world’s universities – which deliver an increasing number of courses in English – is moving down to secondary school level (Graddol, 2006, p. 101).

And this will result in:

the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’ (Graddol, 2006, p, 15)

This would seem to have important consequences for EAP, especially in the UK, with students entering with a higher level of general English, and even higher levels of general EAP, but having more specific language needs. This would mean that the teenage market, general foundation courses and general pre-sessional courses would decline. This would not mean that ELT/EAP in UK will come to an end, but the nature of the business is changing. The future of ELT seems to be merged with mainstream education – EAP – in which students learn the academic language at the same time as learning the subjects – CBI (See: Brinton, Snow & Wesche, 1989).

There is also relevance for teachers:

In today’s complex and globalising world, well-trained, multilingual and culturally sophisticated teachers are needed to teach learners of English. … It is time for those involved in the ELT profession to resist the employment of untrained native speaker teachers (Andy Kirkpatrick, cited in Graddol, 2006, p. 121).

The practice of  EAP seem to be going off in two directions, now. Which one will succeed? On the one hand there is the focus on EGAP, promoted, for, example, by the large international publishers and their multi-level EAP course book series. There is nothing new here: in the 1970s, OUP had the English in Focus series, in the 1980s was the Collins Study Skills series, and the CUP EAP series. These were followed by Phoenix: English for Academic Studyseries, developed at the University of Reading in the in 1990s. The availability of these materials meant that specifically trained EAP teachers are not needed as long as the teachers can use a textbook. There is probably a future for these series, but – if Graddol is right – not at universities.

On the other hand we can still see a real focus on the specific needs of students as demonstrated by journals such as JEAP and English for Specific Purposes as well as conference such as the BALEAP biennial conference and the regular PIMs.This is complicated, though, as teachers working in this way need a sophisticated knowledge of EAP language and practices. Again, if Graddol is right, this is the future and EAP needs to take it seriously with such projects as the BALEAP Teacher Competencies research.

If Graddol is right, then there will be little need for the big course-book series in the UK and much more interest in narrow specifically designed courses meeting individual student needs. This will mean more CPD and EAP teacher education.
Another trend in the UK which will probably continue is the merging of EAP (for international students) with academic skills/support centres aimed at home students.
With regard to English-medium universities worldwide, it will be interesting to see what role English will play and the which models of accuracy will be expected (Jenkins, 2014, pp. 206-210).


Breeze, R. (2012). Rethinking academic writing pedagogy for the European university. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd edn.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Graddol, D. (2006). English next. London: British Council.

Jenkins, J. (2014). English as a lingua franca in the international university: The politics of academic English language policy. London: Routledge.

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