The 13th century saw the establishment of the first universities in the Western World. At that time, the language used for communication was Latin. This provided the opportunity for both professors and scholars to teach and study at different universities across Europe. Manuscripts were also written in Latin, thus allowing the sharing and the rapid distribution of knowledge. It was the beginnings of a common Western academic world.
Seven centuries later, we find ourselves in analogous circumstances. Globalisation has turned English into the "lingua franca", the language mostly used worldwide in business and academia. According to September 2005 figures published by "Internet World Stats", the four main languages used worldwide in internet are, respectively, English (31,7% of users), Chinese (13%), Japanese (8,1%) and Spanish (6,4%).
Eric Beerkens, a regular commentator in our blog, raises the question about whether multilingualism is a threat to the implementation of the Bologna process in Europe. I do not believe so. It is foreseeable that those European universities that aim at attracting foreign students will offer courses in English. But part of the richness of European educational offerings will consist of learning a second or a third language and a different culture.
Given the pre-eminence of English in academia, I believe that the first beneficiaries of the flow of students after Bologna will be universities based in English-speaking countries. However, the first European Masters in Management Rankings recently published by the Financial Times include only 6 universities from the UK and Ireland out of the top 25. Is this evidence that the language spoken in a country will not be a critical factor for choosing a university, provided that the teachings are run in English?