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A Critical Exploration of the Effects of English Language Instruction in Colombian Higher Education on Low-income Students’ Capability Formation

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Lee Mackenzie
Publication date14/07/2021
Number of pages111
Awarding Institution
Award date14/07/2021
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


English is the most widely spoken language in the world, and many higher education institutes (HEIs) in the global South have prioritised English language education (ELE). In Colombia, the context of this study, English has become the de facto foreign language in Colombian higher education (HE) although little is known about its effects on the lives of HE students from low-income backgrounds. Addressing this knowledge gap is critical to ensure that ELE in Colombian HE is relevant and socially just. The current study used the capability approach (CA) to identify the substantive freedoms which English can enlarge or constrain in the lives of economically vulnerable graduates in Colombia, and to identify factors which are instrumental in this process. Since Sen and Nussbaum’s normative framework has given insufficient consideration to questions of power and inequality, this study also draws on Phillipson’s (1992) theory of linguistic imperialism. Qualitative interviews with 20 economically vulnerable graduates and four HE experts in the field of Colombian ELE were conducted to investigate this issue, and thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. The findings show that English in Colombia, although implicated in global injustices, can cultivate economic, sociocultural and epistemic capabilities. However, they also show how this capability expansion is also shaped by a range of conversion factors. This thesis builds on the small number of qualitative studies exploring the relationship between English and development in the global South and extends this literature by improving our understanding of this relationship in the Colombian context, including the ways in which the spread of English can perpetuate asymmetrical North-South power relations. It also makes a valuable contribution to the capability literature by highlighting the importance of viewing linguistic capabilities as dynamic and relational. The findings of this thesis are therefore of interest not only to language policy experts and other language education stakeholders in developing contexts, but also to capability scholars.