Policy and practice in Iranian higher education: The case of english for academic purposes

Year: 2012

Author: Kiani, Saba

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The presentation discusses a doctoral research study currently in progress. English language proficiency is often a prerequisite that determines whether or not students will be accepted into PhD degree programmes in Iran. Although English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is a compulsory programme from the Science Ministry for all universities throughout the country to teach, there is a consensus among practitioners that EAP programmes have not reached their objectives in the sense that students cannot use their knowledge as a real language user for communication in either everyday or academic use. The study uses a critical policy methodology based on an anthropology of policy approach.  This enables the contextualisation of social practices and policies within a regime's political structures.  It analyses the tensions and paradoxes in Iran's educational policy as expressions of the deeper forces of power in that country through a case study which shows how policies (including the lack of policy) are experienced in the everyday life of students. Using mixed methods for data collection, the research explores in some depth a small number of lecturers' and students' view-points, perceptions, and experiences regarding the quality of the EAP programme in one university in Iran. Survey questionnaires were also developed as another means by which a larger number of EAP students' attitudes towards English and EAP courses could be examined. In turn that examination is framed by sociological inquiry to contextualise the analysis within Iran's political context in order to identify the structural causes that have resulted in the situation of EAP at present. A significant finding emerging from this research shows the absence of explicit policy underpinning the implementation of EAP programmes in Iranian universities. Consequently, EAP practice is in a moribund and confused state. While the scientific population in Iran believe in the importance of the English language for university students, given the necessity of English for development and progression of the country and relations with the international community, the religious group that controls power in Iran has taken decisions which lead to further distancing of the country from the international community. EAP is an example of the tensions in Iran's education system, tensions that come from irreconcilable differences between Iran's desire for involvement in the global scientific community and its insular religious fundamentalism. Given that the role of policy is to organise beaucratic action to solve particular problems, where there is absence of any effective policy for EAP programmes in Iran, the problems with these courses that were found in the study are to be expected.