Internationalization and the invisible language? A language perspective into the Finnish higher education internationalization policy



Internationalization has been a policy catchword in Finnish higher education since the 1990s, but the position of language(s) in that context has remained largely unproblematized. This study fills two gaps in higher education policy studies as it 1) brings language (education) policies into the field of higher education policy research, and 2) places language explicitly into the study of internationalization. In addition to this empirical task, this study develops the field theoretically too as it continues to develop the notion of discursive operationalizations as bridging the gap between “policy words” and “policy deeds” (Saarinen 2007).

The study is conducted from a historical, discursive, and language practice viewpoint.

The Historical section of the study will analyze discursively existing research and policy documents on Finnish higher education, and asks the questions 1) What have, historically, the language and internationalization practices of Finnish universities been like? and 2) Does “language” have a role in the past and present  internationalization policy of Finnish higher education, explicitly or implicitly?

The Discursive section will include a detailed discourse analysis of policy documentation at different levels since the beginning of 1980s, asking the question 3) What challenges does the traditionally national language setting of Finnish higher education face with the increasing demands for internationalization? The discursive section also analyzes the discursive operationalization of language actions in policy documentation, asking 4) Are new kinds of policies emerging in Finnish higher education, when language(s) and internationalization are in focus?

The Language Practices section will use interviews of students (both Finnish and international) and staff (both teaching and administration), as well as additional textual documentation, such as job announcements, staff and student instructions, study plans etc. at institutional level, asking the questions 5) How do language practices in higher education interact and interconnect with internationalization policies and practices?) and 6) Do the ideologies of internationalization and the ideologies of a national tradition clash, as they are observed from a language practice perspective?

Research methods will vary across the three main questions, according to the needs of the question and the different kinds of data collected for the question.  Basically, the data will be analyzed critically with discourse analytical methods, concentrating on the position, meanings and representations of language in internationalization policies and practices. With a starting point in methods used in my doctoral thesis, the methodological tools will first be tested from an array of rhetorical and pragmatic starting points, and then the most suitable methods for the study will be selected.

Saarinen, T. (2011). Kielen näkyvyys ja näkymättömyys tutkimuksen kansainvälistymisessä [Visibility and invisibility of language in internationalization of research]. Tiedepolitiikka, 36 (1), 57-59.

Saarinen, T. (2011, 2). Näkyvä ja näkymätön korkeakoulutuksen kielikoulutuspolitiikka [Visible and Invisible language education policy in higher education]. Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta. Kielikoulutuspolitiikan verkoston verkkolehti. Retrieved from

Hoffman, D., Välimaa, J., Saarinen, T., Söderqvist, M., Raunio, M. & Korhonen, M. (2011). The International SoleTM of Finnish Higher Eduction: A Virtual Vanishing Act. International Journal of Cyber Ethics in Education, 1 (3), 25-39. doi:10.4018/ijcee.2011070103 Retrieved from

Saarinen, T. (2012). Internationalization and the invisible language? Historical phases and current policies in Finnish higher education. In S. Ahola, & D. Hoffman (eds.), Higher education research in Finland: emerging structures and contemporary issues (pp. 235-248). Jyväskylä, Finland: University of Jyväskylä, Finnish Institute for Educational Research.

Saarinen, T. (2012). Internationalization of Finnish higher education — is language an issue?. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2012 (216), 157-173. doi:10.1515/ijsl-2012-0044 Retrieved from

Saarinen, Taina and Tarja Nikula (2012): Implicit policy, invisible language: policies and practices of international degree programmes in Finnish higher education. In A. Doiz, D. Lasagabaster, J. M. Sierra (eds.) English-medium Instruction at Universities: Global Challenges. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters.

Nikula, Tarja and Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri (2012): Linguistic diversity as a problem and a resource – multilingualism in European and Finnish policy documents. In J. Blommaert, S. Leppänen, P. Pahta  & T. Räisänen (eds.) Dangerous multilingualism – Northern perspectives on order, purity and normality. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Updated list of publications:

Work in progress: see

Saarinen, Taina and Pöyhönen Sari. How national is national? Language education policy in a globalised world. . Language Policy and Language Learning: New Paradigms and New Challenges. Limerick, Irlanti, 19.6.2009

Saarinen, Taina and Nikula, Tarja, Pöyhönen Sari, Kyllönen Teija. Kielellinen moninaisuus ongelmana ja resurssina: monikielisyyden hallintaa Euroopan unionin ja Suomen politiikkadokumenteissa. Sosiologipäivät 2010. Jyväskylä, Suomi, 20.3.2010

Saarinen, Taina. Internationalization and the invisible language. Who needs languages? Micro and macro perspectives into language education policies. Jyväskylä, Suomi, 7.6.2010

Saarinen, Taina. Internationalization and the invisible language? XXIV CESE Conference. Uppsala, Ruotsi, 17.8.2010

Saarinen, Taina. Internationalisation of Higher Education and the Invisible Language: Foreign language degree programmes challenging Finnish higher education. ECER - European Conference on Educational Research 2010. Helsinki, Suomi, 27.8.2010

Saarinen, Taina. Näkyvä ja näkymätön korkeakoulutuksen kielikoulutuspolitiikka: tilannekatsaus. Koulutuspäivä turkulaisten yliopistojen kielikeskuksille. Turku, Suomi, 26.11.2010

Saarinen, Taina. Näkyvä ja näkymätön korkeakoulutuksen kielikoulutuspolitiikka. Vieraskielisen opetuksen politiikkatasot: seminaari 27.1.2011. Jyväskylän yliopisto, Suomi, 27.1.2011

Saarinen, Taina and Nikula, Tarja. Global policies, local practices: English-medium instruction in Finnish higher education. Vikipeda 2011 - Global trends meet local nee . Vaasa, Suomi, 23.5.2011

Saarinen, Taina. Visible policy, invisible language: internationalization of higher education and the position of language in Finland. Parallelsproglige Mål på Nordens universiteter. Helsingör, Tanska, 30.5.2011

Saarinen, Taina, Laoire Muiris Ó, Rigg Claire. When policy brushes against something living: interactions of macro and micro language (education) policies. International Symposium of Bilingualism (ISB8). Oslo, Norja, 18.6.2011

Saarinen, Taina. Visible policy, invisible language: internationalization of higher education and the position of language in Finland. CHER 2011. Reykjavik, Islanti, 25.6.2011

Saarinen, Taina. Vieraalla kielellä opettaminen – tutkimustulosten esittelyä ja kokemuksia kansainvälisestä maisteriohjelmasta/ Teaching in a foreign language – research findings and sharing experiences with an international Master’s Degree Programme. Opetustaitojen kehittäminen kansainvälistyvässä yliopistossa . Turku, Suomi, 25.10.2011

Saarinen, Taina, Hoffman David and Cools Carine. Smoke and Mirrors: “multiculturalism”, “multilingualism” and related terms as re/dis/appearing policy concepts in Finnish internationalization policies. Cross-Currents in Language and Culture. ETMU days. Jyväskylä, Suomi, 27.10.2011

Saarinen, Taina. Nordisk syntes: Preliminära resultat av utredningen om den språkutbildningspolitiska situationen vid högskolorna i deltagarländerna . Synlig politik, osynlig språk. Espoo, Hanasaaren ruotsalais-suomalainen kulttuurikeskus, Suomi, 4.11.2011

Saarinen, Taina. Policy is what happens when you’re busy doing something else: micro and macro language policies of higher education. EPOKE -tutkimusryhmän seminaari. Kööpenhamina, Tanska, 14.3.2012

Saarinen, Taina. (In)visible policies and practices: ’Language’ in Finnish higher education internationalisation. Calpiu’12. Roskilde, Tanska, 3.4.2012

Saarinen, Taina. Making the invisible visible: discursive operationalisations of language policy in Finnish higher education. Calpiu’12 . Roskilde, Tanska, 2.4.2012

Saarinen, Taina. Nordic language policy or policies for higher education? Korkeakoulu – ja innovaatiotutkimuksen päivät 2012: University in Transition. Helsinki, Suomi, 12.4.2012

Saarinen, Taina. Position of "language" in higher education: the policy level. Korkeakoulujen kv-kevätpäivät. Lahti, Suomi, 23.5.2012

Saarinen, T. 2012 Higher education – a national institution within an international setting? The implications of “language” to higher education. Paper presented at Sociolinguistics Symposium 19, 21.-24.8.2012, Berliini, Saksa

Saarinen, T. 2012. Globalisation and knowledge society without language? The implications of “language” to social dynamics of higher education. Paper presented at the annual CHER 2012 - Annual Confrence of the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers, Belgrad, Serbia, 10.-12.9.2012


Publications and Presentations