Feb 12, 2024

Linguistic diversity and linguistic discrimination in higher education: opportunities and challenges


The Research Problem

Student and staff populations are rapidly diversifying, especially in higher education (HE), in English-language-dominant countries. However, educational policies and practices often overlook linguistic diversity and fail to address linguistic discrimination. Similarly, academic analyses of linguistic discrimination in higher education remain nascent and are still predominantly North American in focus. This project explores linguistic discrimination experienced by bi/multilingual staff and students at the University of Auckland (UoA) and other English-language-dominant institutions in the UK, Hawai’i, South Africa, as well as Luxembourg, as a multilingual university. The project will identify strategies to increase inclusiveness in HE. As sociolinguistic research has shown, recognising bi/multilinguals’ full linguistic repertoires not only promotes positive ethnic identities but also academic engagement and wellbeing.

Research Design

The following key research questions frame the project:

(1) What are the (bi/multilingual) linguistic profiles of university staff and student populations?

(2) What forms of linguistic discrimination have staff and students experienced?

(3) What linguistic affordances (if any) are there for bi/multilingual staff and students?

This research employs a mixed methods approach, drawing on both quantitative survey data and qualitative interview data. The survey will be developed via Qualtrics and analyzed by SPSS. Qualitative data will be collected through follow-up focus groups and semi-structured interviews with a subset of the survey respondents in three categories: academic staff, professional staff, and students. Qualitative data will be transcribed, imported into NVivo, and organized into categories for descriptive coding and themes. During the 12-month grant period, we will share the research design and preliminary findings of the New Zealand study with co-investigators in the UK, Hawaiʻi, South Africa, and Luxembourg. We will discuss relevant issues in our HE contexts by bringing together a diverse group of academics from WUN and non-WUN universities for a two-day international symposium.

Project Objectives

The study seeks to identify the linguistic profile of participating universities, enabling us to assess the relevance and value of bi/multilingual communication in HE contexts. The study will also examine how university policies and practices influence the academic and general wellbeing of bi/multilingual staff and students in different English-language-dominant institutions. The methodology will pivot from our initial UoA study to examining these – and related issues of linguistic discrimination – within English-language-dominant and multilingual HE contexts in the UK, Hawai’i, South Africa, and Luxembourg. The WUN seed funding enables international research collaborations that will inform policies and strategies which recognise bi/multilingual staff and students’ linguistic competence and address inequalities.