Policymaking as a multi-layered activity. A case study from the higher education sector in Norway

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This paper deals with policymaking in the higher education sector as an activity which happens on many levels, with many and varying interests involved. As the present thematic issue highlights, language is present in higher education policymaking, whether explicitly or implicitly. This special issue’s initial claim is that “Policy is what happens while you’re busy doing something else”. What this statement brings to the fore is the sometimes overlooked fact that language policies are not the only policies influencing language choice or the overall language distribution of the higher education sector, neither nationally nor globally. This paper describes a case study of a university department in Norway and the various interests and considerations involved in making a decision to move from Norwegian to English as the language of tuition. It discusses how internationalisation policy and language policy may be imposed by different agencies, and sometimes involves a conflict of interest having to be resolved. The paper further discusses how the university department in the case study in its local linguistic practice relates to policies made at the institutional, national and international levels, and reversely how actual practice at the local level influences national policies. The paper thus aims to develop our understanding of the “micro-” and “macro-” levels involved in determining language choice and language distribution in the higher education sector.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-627
Number of pages16
JournalHigher Education
Issue number4
Early online date19 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2015
EventCALPIU'12: Higher education across borders: Transcultural interaction and linguistic diversity - Roskilde, Denmark
Duration: 1 Apr 20124 Apr 2012


  • higher education
  • language
  • Language planning
  • English as an academic language


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