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Discrimination and native-speakerism in English for Academic Purposes (EAP)

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Published onMay 16, 2022
Discrimination and native-speakerism in English for Academic Purposes (EAP)


Native-speakerism and discrimination are two major issues in English Language Education (Holliday, 2006). This paper aims to explore these issues in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and try to reflect on the experiences of three European EAP tutors. Using autoethnography as the main research methodology, the researcher conducted 2 interviews and by describing her own feelings and experiences gives an insight to the current situation in the EAP field. How native-speakerism and discrimination have shaped the professional and personal lives of the people included in this research are examined with one common theme revealed, which is the lack of transparency within the employment practices of the EAP field, especially after BREXIT and the pandemic.

Keywords: native-speakerism; EAP (English for Academic Purposes); discrimination; higher education; the United Kingdom

Part of the special issue Autoethnography in online doctoral education

1. Introduction

It was 10th July 2009 when I received my exam results and found out I was accepted at the English Language department of the University of Athens. Back then, I was just an 18-year-old young adult living in a small resort town in the Peloponnese region in Greece. I was full of dreams, but none of those dreams included leaving my country and teach English abroad. This aspiration was born when I was about to graduate in 2013. Greece’s economic recession was raging, and my career prospects seemed relatively limited. So first, I decided to study abroad to improve my knowledge in the field and improve my prospects. However, after graduating from the University of Birmingham in 2014 with an MA in Applied Linguistics, my desire to stay abroad and teach English became even greater. That was my first encounter with “native-speakerism” and “discrimination” when I had to label myself in my CV as a non-native speaker of English.’

Native-speakerism can be defined as this pervasive ideology within ELT (English Language Teaching), which considers native speakers of the English language as the only accurate representation, not only of the language itself but also of the Western civilization in general (Holliday, 2006). This belief divides English language teachers into two categories and has a considerably negative impact on non-native speakers both in employment practices and language presentation (Holliday, 2006). 

This paper intends to explore native-speakerism and discrimination in a specific subcategory of ELT, which is called English for Academic Purposes (EAP). This professional field refers to a particular type of English that someone needs when they prepare to study or conduct research in an institution, where the English language is the primary medium of instruction. EAP courses are broadly associated with undergraduate students, pre-masters, and pre-sessional courses for students who have not achieved their preferred level in IELTS or in-sessional courses, which offer extra support during their studies (Jordan & Jordan, 1997). EAP as a field has been expanding for the last 20 years. Since then, no specific set of qualifications determines who is supposed to teach EAP. The main professional organisation of EAP lecturers, BALEAP, has not made significant progress (Ding & Bruce, 2017). Compared to ELT, there is no specific literature that has focused on discrimination or native-speakerism mainly because of two reasons. First, until BREXIT, European nationals used to teach at summer pre-sessional programs and therefore moved to the UK for a short period. Most of these programs were an additional income in tandem with professional development. Now, most UK institutions demand that you need to be based in the UK to work, and it is something stated in relevant job posts (BALEAP,, 2020).

Apart from that, COVID19 has made it somewhat challenging to travel and move to another country. The short-term work visa scheme has made it even more difficult than before to work at pre-sessional programs if you are a European based in a different country rather than the UK. Additionally, EAP has expanded outside of the UK, and it is prevalent in countries such as China, South Korea, and others. These nations have implemented new visa regulations, which mandate that if you do not have a passport from an English-speaking country, you cannot teach EAP regardless of your experience and qualifications (ELGAZETTE, 2019). For example, in 2006, 150,000 native English tutors were working in China, and this number was growing significantly back then (Joen & Lee, 2006). Each province tends to have its regulations, varying from hiring qualified native speakers to having the native status as the only qualification (Niu & Wolff, 2003). For these reasons, I would like to explore these issues in EAP because the new geopolitical situation and the pandemic have worked against non-native speakers who used to move to EAP for more well-compensated jobs, and the fact that native-speakerism and discrimination were less profound (Ding, 2019).

The leading professional organisation of EAP Lecturers is BALEAP (British Association of Lecturers of English for Academic Purposes). It has been claimed to be too UK-centric and not very effective in showing that EAP lecturers do something different than ELT, and therefore, the native speaker status is not significant in our field (Ding & Bruce, 2017). In the last few years, EAP lecturers, myself included, have been exposed to discrimination because of the new visa regulations worldwide. Especially, the UK favours native speakers and passport holders from inner-circle countries (such as the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia). This paper aims to highlight those issues that may not have been covered by the literature extensively and show how these may affect someone’s professional journey.

Autoethnography is this qualitative research method that attempts to collect stories about oneself and understand what these stories mean for culture and other social phenomena that may need to change (Chang, 2008). Autoethnography is going to be the primary methodology in this paper. It can be defined as a different approach to research and writing that aims to describe and deeply understand personal experiences and feelings to raise awareness and eventually change cultural norms and phenomena that may negatively affect certain groups of people (Ellis, Adam & Bochner, 2011). Therefore, using autoethnography as a vehicle, the researcher will be placed into the spotlight, highlighting her experiences, and exploring her professional path as a non-native EAP tutor working in higher education institutions in the UK and the rest of the world. The main argument of this paper is that recent political developments such as BREXIT and the pandemic have shaped a rather different situation for non-native EAP tutors who have faced more difficulty in finding a position in the UK and elsewhere. More specifically, this paper is going to focus on European EAP tutors and how potential discrimination and native-speakerism have shaped their careers so far, and how the new world stage can further influence their professional journeys in the future.

2. Research questions

My research questions aim to answer pressing questions related to native-speakerism and racial discrimination across the EAP sector in the UK Higher Education and explore how these practices can affect someone’s professional life. Using myself and two other colleagues’ experiences, I aim to answer the following research questions.

  1. What the incidents of native-speakerism and discrimination I have directly and indirectly experienced in the EAP field?

  2. How can those experiences shape and influence someone’s professional opportunities and career development?

  3. How can these experiences affect their self-confidence and professional identity?

3. Literature review

In this section, the researcher aims to review the relevant research conducted about native-speakerism and discrimination in higher education around the world. The first part is dedicated to job advertisements and how discrimination can be spotted in them. These papers were chosen not only because they constitute a large part of the research on discrimination, but usually, they represent the first stage of discrimination and native-speakerism. The second part of the literature review will focus on several ethnographic studies about these issues, revealing overarching themes that will influence this paper as well. Next, this section will focus on students’ perceptions of non-native teachers and reveal whether their attitudes are either positive or negative. Finally, this section will highlight the gaps in the literature and how this paper aims to address those.

3.1 Favouritism in job ads

There has been a substantial amount of research on job advertisements worldwide, which reveals favouritism and discrimination against non-native teachers. Alshammari (2020) investigated 26 job ads of universities based in the Middle East looking for English teachers and concluded that most universities are willing to employ native teachers without qualifications instead of non-natives with qualifications and work experience. The same was found by Selvi (2010), who analysed 249 online ads in the same part of the world and found unethical and undemocratic employment practices. Ngoc (2016) researched job ads in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam) and found that discrimination is deep-rooted even for expatriate non-native teachers who return to their country to teach. He also mentioned that even teachers from Singapore, where English is the official language, will face discrimination. This proves that employers seem to favour native teachers who come from inner-circle countries, such as the UK, the USA, and Australia (Ngoc, 2016). Canagarajah (1999) claimed that almost 80% of English teachers in the world are non-native. This fact shows that this distinction between natives and non-natives does not reflect the reality and the market needs. Cheung and Braine (2007) found the same research results in Hong Kong, where both native and non-native teachers co-exist. However, in Hong Kong, only locals who become English teachers can teach legally. If you come from an outer circle country, the government does not issue working visas. Finally, Ruecker and Ives (2015) investigated job ads in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand and found that only natives from the then inner circle were employed. 

3.2 Ethnographic studies in native-speakerism and discrimination

Lowe and Kiczkowiak (2016) conducted ethnographic research on how native speakerism has affected their careers. The first is a native speaker of English, and the 2nd is Polish and non-native. Both shared experiences that these practices have affected their career and confidence. In Japan, for example, Lowe felt disposable, and that students and employers did not take him seriously because he was a native backpacker teacher. He is suitable only for speaking and nothing else. Kiczkowiak, on the other hand, has been turned down from numerous positions just because he is Polish, something that urged him to become an advocate for non-native teachers’ rights and against native-speakerism. The main conclusion of their research was to avoid victimising teachers and bear in mind that everyone is affected by these practices. Finally, another influential paper comes from Canagarajah (2012), who attempted through an “ethnographic self-construction” to describe his experiences when he was a university tutor and trained by American native trainers and when he moved to the USA to work at universities there. His description and the recount of his feelings shed light on the discrimination of what non-native English teachers do, how these tutors can relate to their students, and the amount of effort they have to invest to be accepted as equal members in their institutions. He also highlighted the amount of effort he had to invest to be accepted by his colleagues and how his teaching methods are effective and generally prove his worth as a non-native teacher of English. Impostor syndrome and a constant effort to be accepted and validated were also mentioned in this paper.

3.3 Students’ perceptions toward NETS and NNETS

Several stakeholders in the language industry claim that students prefer teachers who are native speakers of English (Braine, 2010). This section will explore several studies on students’ perceptions toward native and non-native teachers of English and shed some light on what students think. Kelch and Santanna-Williamson (2002) explored how students respond to different accents and how this affects their attitude toward their teachers. Their study revealed that ESL students could not differentiate between native and non-native accents accurately. This may not be true for more mature students in EAP, for example, and perhaps a similar study in this field could reveal different results. Cheung (2002) conducted a study on Hong Kong universities, revealing that university students have a positive attitude toward their non-native teachers. They claimed that these teachers use different teaching methods, have more patience, and are more focused during the lessons. Another study by Benke and Mendgyes (2005) looked into Hungarian students’ positive perceptions.

A more recent study from Wang and Fang (2020) investigated Chinese universities, and the results were mixed. More specifically, they looked into students’ feelings and the number of teachers who teach in each university. Some students prefer natives; some do not. This stems from the fact that students can relate to the non-native teacher, who has a similar background and has faced similar difficulties. Also, the high demand for English teachers in Chinese universities requires the employment of non-native speakers; otherwise, it is impossible to cover all the needs of natives. Finally, Mahboob (2003) conducted a similar study in the USA, and he reported a surprising finding. Most of the students distinguish between native and non-native speakers, categorising all Caucasian teachers as natives even if they come from Germany or Sweden. This reveals the issue of race, which is not the main issue in this paper, but it could be further explored in a future study.

3.4 Gaps in the literature

This literature review revealed a gap regarding EAP tutors. Some studies regarding university students in Hong Kong mostly, but these may take a different approach toward language education and focus mainly on general English rather than academic (Cheung, 2002). This research gap could be explained by the lack of EAP tutors who are willing to conduct research or are unable to do so due to the precarious employment status that underpins the field and prevents them from engaging in professional development opportunities (Ding & Bruce, 2017).

4. Theoretical framework

The main theoretical background of this research stems from the ideology of linguistic imperialism and the characterisation of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). This term refers to any communication in English between speakers who have different first languages (Seidlhofer, 2005). The way English has spread worldwide, and its characterisation as a lingua franca would urge someone to assume that being a native or a non-native speaker would no longer matter in a globalised world. However, these discriminatory assumptions and ideologies still exist. 

Linguistic imperialism could be defined as this ideology that aims to exploit and place those who belong to the dominant language into a higher social position and tends to stigmatise those who do not belong to the same group (Phillipson, 2018). Linguistic imperialism has its origins in the existence of colonies during the 19th century and had a significant impact on the formation of a particular dichotomy; western countries where the culture and the language are of greater importance than the colonised nations (e.g., Englishà India) (Macedo et al., 2015). The recent globalisation of the English language has not eliminated this dichotomy and its subsequent problems (e.g., native-speakerism and discrimination), but it has intensified it in some instances. 

Pennycook (2017), for example, explains in detail how the British Council has helped the globalisation of the English language and shaped it as an essential language in every economic and political activity around the world. This organisation turned the English language from an exchange of language and culture and a deeper understanding of the British culture into a commodity, which, to be successful, needed to be sold by certain representatives, such as native speakers (Pennycook, 2017). The same has been claimed by Phillipson (2018), who maintains that the British Council has consistently depicted a particular image of the English language and those who are supposed to represent it. Subsequently, the English Language classroom has been turned into a site of cultural politics, which shows how the world is supposed to be instead of how it is (Pennycook, 2017). To be more specific, this ideology suggests that an English language classroom should be full of students coming from different backgrounds and countries, and the teacher should come from an English-speaking country because they are the only credible representatives and accurate models of the English language and culture (Graddol, 1997 cited in Modiano, 2001). The obsession for near-native proficiency requiring a native speaker as a teacher approaches the English language not as a lingua franca but as a cultural indoctrination (Modiano, 2001).

The dichotomy that was mentioned above, which is closely related to cultural indoctrination, is essential to understanding the origins and the effects of linguistic imperialism. The world is divided into “us” and “them”; we are the native speakers, and they are non-native speakers. Any resistance to this division and any effort to cultural integration is considered as backward and against progress (Said, 1978). To be more specific, English is associated with something modern and contemporary. In contrast, any other language or education system (e.g., the Chinese) is considered traditional, backward, and against the progress that comes with financial progress (Pennycook, 2017).

These notions have influenced this paper as well. More specifically, the interview questions explore how these tutors categorise themselves and how this distinction between native and non-native speakers has influenced their teacher identity. Linguistic imperialism influences how these non-native teachers perceive themselves as this distinction into “us” and “them” that was mentioned above could lead many tutors to believe that they are not worthy of their positions and careers, having the so-called “impostor syndrome”. This pervasive ideology permeates cultural perceptions, and no matter how good or educated you are, someone cannot simply change the country they were born. Through the interviews and the themes that will emerge, the researcher of the present paper will explore how this theory has influenced their professional identity and how it has impacted the countries and the institutions they live in and work in.

5. Methodology and methods

This paper is based on qualitative research, where human intentions, motivations, emotions, and actions are placed at a prominent level (Adams et al., 2014). The main purpose of this paper is to explore personal experiences and stories and determine how native-speakerism can shape someone’s career. When the research paradigm employs personal stories or memory recollections, few methodologies can interpret them at a deeper level. Autoethnography is one of these methodologies, which will be the primary research methodology of this paper. This qualitative methodology enables the researcher to place oneself at the centre of the research and offer a complex and intimate recollection of someone’s experiences, relationships, and feelings (Adams et al., 2014).

Autoethnography can be divided into evocative and analytic autoethnography, according to Anderson (2006). Evocative autoethnography aims for more emotion and self–reflexivity in social sciences. This type of autoethnography is called “emotional autoethnography” revealing the prominent place of feelings and emotions in this type of narrative research (Ellis & Bochner, 2016). In this paper, analytic autoethnography seems a more appropriate choice because it values the researcher’s personal experiences and feelings. However, it also employs other research methods, such as interviews, to validate and confirm the researcher’s experiences to inform and influence social change (Anderson, 2006).

Anderson (2006) suggests that analytic autoethnography has five key features: complete member researcher status (CMR), which means that the researcher is a member of the community. The second feature is analytic reflexivity, where ethnographers influence the data, and the data shapes them back as well. The third one is narrative visibility of the researcher’s self, meaning that the researcher should acknowledge in the text that she/he was part of the community. The next one is expanding the dialogue with informants beyond the self, which means that the auto ethnographer should consider experiences and feelings coming from other people in the same community. Finally, the last feature is the commitment to theoretic analysis, which aims to combine personal data with empirical data to shed light on broader social phenomena and ultimately change them.

5.1 Data collection

After defining analytic autoethnography, referring to the various methods used in this research is essential. According to Chang (2008), collecting personal memory data is a research method usually used in ethnography. The main difference between ethnography and autoethnography is how these two paradigms interpret and handle memories. Ethnography uses “recalling” of the researcher’s memories while she/he was doing fieldwork, while autoethnography values personal memory and openly acknowledge personal memory as the primary source of data (Chang, 2008). In this paper, I will use an autobiographical timeline of a specific part of my career, roughly from 2016 until 2020, describing and reflecting on my experiences working in UK Higher Education institutions based in the UK.

Another method used in this paper is semi-structured interviews. In autoethnography, interviews provide more context and information on the researcher’s primary data, and confirm, complement, and validate any claims or generalisations made (Chang, 2008). This research will present and analyse the findings of two interviews via Teams and lasted approximately an hour. The first interviewee used to be my colleague at a university in the UK and was one of the people who inspired me for this paper. We kept in touch via Linkedin, and I invited her to participate in this project. She is European, working in UK Higher Education as an EAP tutor, and for this paper, we will refer to her with an imaginary name (Sophia). The second interviewee comes from Greece (like me), and he is currently based in the UK, working in a higher education institution as an EAP tutor. I met him accidentally in a webinar organised by BALEAP. Something he said about native-speakerism triggered my interest in getting to know him better and interviewing him for this project. His interview was online via Zoom, and it lasted about 2 hours. For the purposes of this paper, we will refer to him with an imaginary name as well (Panos). At this point, I would like to clarify that the interviews took place online because I am based in China, where I relocated recently, working in a Sino-foreign (UK) institution.

5.2 Data analysis

The data of this paper can be divided into two parts. The primary source of data includes my collection of personal memory data. The acknowledgement of personal memories as the primary vehicle of this research is a right given by autoethnography, according to Chang (2008). However, personal memories often reveal partial truth, and they can be unreliable at times, which is why I have included two interviews as a secondary source of data. As a research method in autoethnography, interviews provide external data that can confirm, validate, complement, or even reject what personal memory has distorted (Chang, 2008).

I reflected and analysed the autobiographical timeline I created about my professional and personal life. Later, after conducting the interviews, I added all three sources of data in Atlas. ti and tried to find common themes that described experiences that shaped all the participants in this research. These themes have been influenced by the theoretical background of this paper and the literature was explored previously. Some of these themes include impostor syndrome, validation of practice, effort to be accepted in the professional community, distorted professional identity due to linguistic imperialism and finally, increased effort to obtain qualifications from the inner-circle countries, which are perceived as the best possible way to mitigate the effect of being a non-native teacher.

6. Findings

This section is divided into four parts. The first part describes the researcher’s experiences, while the other two sections reveal the stories of our participants. The final part of this section analyses the themes that emerged from the three stories and how these resonate with the literature presented above and the theoretical background as well.

6.1 My personal experience

As mentioned in the introduction of this paper, when I graduated in 2014 from the University of Birmingham, I aspired to stay in the UK or a different country and pursue a career abroad. In the beginning, I did not realise the issue, and it became visible to me when I was rejected or unable to apply for a position asking for a native speaker. I have found myself lying about my family and making up the existence of a native speaker of English as a close relative of mine. I did that to justify my choice to become an English teacher and that I learned English from a very early age. Fortunately, I worked in the EFL sector for a few months only, and when I moved into EAP in 2016, this discrimination was less visible depending on the country and the institutions I used to work. However, I always find myself in the minority in any of the three UK institutions I have worked. Looking at the people in my office and nearby offices, I am the only one among two or three more people not originally from the UK, USA, or Canada. Despite my career progression, I have witnessed other incidents where my non-native colleagues have been discriminated especially during the recruitment process in various UK institutions.

It was my last summer in the UK in 2019 before I moved to China and started working for Nottingham University. The top-tier university I was teaching in London announced three permanent positions, and as you can imagine, all my colleagues rushed to apply. Except for me. I had secured a position in China, and I was ready to move. Everyone was asking why I did not apply. The reason was my decision to come to China and the fact that I had applied for more than 20 permanent positions in the UK in a time frame of 3 years, and I was not even progressed to the interview stage. I do not know if it was a matter of native-speakerism only, but I was never given any feedback or advice regarding these rejections, even though I had all the qualifications they needed on paper. The reason I claim that the employment practices of that top tier university were unfair will be justified by my memory recollection and Sophia’s interview. The university had created a last-minute rule; any candidates who do not have DELTA will not proceed to the interview stage. The main question that arises is what DELTA is and why it is so important.

DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is an 8-week professional development course which is divided into three parts; the first part requires exams to test basic understanding of second language learning theories. The second includes teaching observations, and the third part is a course design assignment of 4,000 words based on an ELT context, such as exam preparation (Cambridge Assessment, 2020). Having completed DELTA quite recently, I can validate that it is most relevant to ELT teachers. Teaching observations and all the criteria that need to underpin your teaching do not reflect how an EAP classroom should run. It has limited relevance to EAP, and teachers can obtain that qualification without having a BA or MA. It was challenging for me to complete the teaching observations in the EAP classroom because most of the DELTA criteria could not be fulfilled. For example, grammar is not explicitly taught, only a few concepts, such as the passive voice and therefore, my teaching observation had to take place only in passive voice. Another example is that vocabulary is also not explicitly taught in an EAP lesson, and only with writing or speaking, I had some flexibility to plan my lessons.

Going back to what happened that summer, I witnessed colleagues with PhDs in Applied Linguistics and some modules from DELTA were excluded from the employment process. Although a colleague had both a Master’s in Applied Linguistics and a DELTA, she was working for them for multiple years in their longer pre-sessional courses. Although it seemed she had everything required, her only disadvantage was that she was European. She went to the interview, but she was not successful. That candidate was Sophia, the first interviewee in this paper. Instead, they hired another person with a PhD in Physics and another with no master’s degree. The only language teaching qualification both have is a DELTA. Also, both were British and white.

Even though I was not directly affected, I was deeply disappointed. I had saved myself from another humiliation, another disappointment. UK universities have created this “new rule” of DELTA just because they want to open the door to native speakers of English who do not have other academic qualifications. DELTA is not a master’s degree, and it is a professional development course for ELT teachers who want to become Directors of Studies in a language school or teacher trainers. This is the end of the high quality of teaching within the EAP field and the start of de-professionalisation. The fact that I had secured a position in China did not stop me from thinking that my qualifications and work experience did not matter, but only my country of origin. People can change their education and work experience, but they do not have the power to change the country they were born in or change their family who gave them their mother tongue. After arriving in China, I found out that the visa regulations had changed, and I managed to find and secure that position merely because of luck. If I were late for a few months only, I would not have this job, and most probably, I would leave EAP and return to my home country. This reveals the hostile environment created in EAP not only in the UK but also in the rest of the world. I am currently in China, working for a Sino Foreign university. If circumstances change in my life, I will be unable to find another position in China or another Asian country because of the new visa restrictions. Therefore, the next logical step is to leave employment for some time or expedite my PhD studies, which will give me a way out of this situation.

6.2 Sophia’s experience

The first person I interviewed was Sophia, the colleague that inspired this research; my European colleague from that UK based university where the incident above actually took place. Her contribution to this research is very crucial because she was the person that experienced the actual event, and she can validate and complement the events that took place during that period.

Sophia was born in a European country, and her mother tongue is not English. Her undergraduate studies were in Business Management, and her master’s degree was also related to Business. Both degrees were completed outside the UK, but her postgraduate degree was in an English medium university. She came to this profession a bit later, but she completed her education with a DELTA and a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics completed in the UK. She worked in that UK based university for almost three years, in their summer pre-sessional and another program during winter. It has to be noted that she completed her DELTA at the same university and conducted some staff development sessions. So when the university advertised that they were going to hire three people on a more permanent basis, she was excited and applied right away.

At this point, I would like to mention that she completed essential parts of the story I knew nothing about because I was not involved in the employment process, not even as a candidate. Sophia reported that the management team did not give the candidates a pre-interview task before the interview, which was standard for being hired for the pre-sessional courses. In addition, she mentioned that the interview structure was not apparent beforehand, and she had limited information about the process. During the actual interview, she reported that the questions were a bit generic and without any specific logic. The management team justified that by claiming that it was a busy period for everyone, and they did not want to burden the candidates with preparation for the interview.

Sophia, however, felt that this lack of structure undermined her effort and possibly affected the result. Also, when the position was advertised, there was no job description attached without showing the essential and the desired qualifications.

This lack of transparency in the employment process led to a discriminatory result. She thinks that perhaps the management team did not intend to be discriminatory, but the result of the whole process signalled native-speakerism. After this incident, she found herself without a job and plan b. Eventually, after a couple of years, she secured a permanent position at a different university. However, this experience has left a scar, as she told me during the interview.

6.3 Panos’s experience

I interviewed the second person, Panos, a Greek man working permanently in a UK-based institution. He identifies himself as a non-native speaker who has completed all his qualifications in the UK starting from his BA. To be more specific, he has a BA in Linguistics, an MA in English Language Teaching and all the relevant TESOL qualifications needed in our profession. Panos described his path as very difficult, being a non-native EAP tutor in the UK. His vivid descriptions revealed the negative emotions he has faced so far to secure permanent employment in the UK. He reported that he had applied for more than 30 positions, and after almost eight years, he managed to secure a permanent position. According to his opinion and experiences, he thinks native-speakerism is present in the UK and institutions outside of the country. His experience in Saudi Arabia validated his opinion that non-native English teachers find a job merely because of luck. That is the word he used to describe his achievements; “everything happened because of luck”. Panos believes that UK institutions do not explicitly state they will hire only native speakers, but this is what they aim for. The fact that universities hire many teachers during the summer pre-sessional courses stems from the fact that there is much demand that cannot be covered by natives only. That is why we encounter the phenomenon “you are good for the summer, but not for the rest of the year”. He reported blatant discriminatory employment practices during the interview process for an EAP tutor position in the UK and aggressive behaviour from one of his colleagues in a different university based in the UK. Those behaviours were targeted at his linguistic competence and whether he has the required level for this field.

He is the only non-native EAP tutor among twelve native tutors and the rest of the department in his current position. In addition, Panos is responsible for home students (UK nationals) who need academic skills courses during their studies. This makes him feel somewhat uncomfortable as his students are native speakers and may face some criticism or doubt regarding his teaching skills. Finally, he believes that BREXIT will intensify the phenomenon and possibly UK institutions will lower the quality of the people they hire to cover the urgent needs during the summer. The main reason is that people outside the UK cannot move to the country only for the summer due to visa restrictions. Panos has described his professional journey and the sacrifices he has made to stay in the EAP field. He describes the moment when they offered him a permanent position as a godsent gift which unfortunately led him to abandon his PhD for a more secure future for himself and his family.

6.4 Emerging themes

The above section was dedicated to the researcher of the present paper and the interviewees. Each individual was given their own space to provide more context and perspective to the topic. The overarching theme in the interviews and my recount was the lack of transparency and the constant change in the qualifications that are needed in our profession. Ding (2019) has highlighted that this lack of a clear set of qualifications that could confirm that someone is an EAP tutor harms the field and downgrades it in the academic world. This lack of transparency is also evident in the job ads, where nowadays, it is not mentioned clearly which countries (or passports) are accepted. As we can see from Figure 1, only a vague note is included where the university mentions the government regulations without giving any detail to the prospective candidates. Panos highlighted the discrimination he felt during his recruitment process in the Middle East, which has been validated by Selvi (2010) and Alshammari (2020).

Figure 1: Job post for a Sino-British University in China

Another theme was the struggle to be accepted in the professional community and how this can lead to the so-called “qualification-mania”. The DELTA rule affected all the participants in this study in different ways. For example, Panos and I do not have DELTA (or all the modules), and therefore we have been excluded from numerous positions, and Sofia felt that all her effort to complete this qualification was not enough to be employed on a more permanent basis. This effort to be included and struggle to get more educated in order to fit in was also mentioned by Canagarajah (1999, 2012), who had to support every decision he was making in his classes with academic papers after facing criticism during class observations.

Finally, I would like to mention a theme that did not emerge from the interviews but was included in the literature review. The participants in this paper did not mention any discrimination on behalf of their students, only the fear of being discriminated against. The main argument against non-native teachers from the students’ perspective is the use of L1. In our case, this is difficult to take place, as most of our students are Chinese. Therefore, the use of L1 in our lessons cannot occur between the teacher and students, only among the students. We do not encourage the use of L1 to maximize their speaking practice.

7. Discussion

Both interviews were compelling, and I found myself resonating with both stories, but more with Panos’s experiences. Our first research question was about the incidents we faced and constituted discrimination and native-speakerism. All the three people who contributed to this paper have faced discrimination, either direct or indirect. Lack of transparency in employment, inability to secure stable employment even if on paper we seem eligible, and finally, the urgent needs of the summer that somehow do not translate to a more stable position during winter were common concerns and thoughts. Unstable employment in EAP has been a constant theme for many years, where zero-hour and temporary contracts tend to be the norm (Ding & Campion, 2017). These concerns and feelings have not been communicated only among our small group of people. However, I was recently involved in a mail thread within our professional organisation, BALEAP (British Association of Lecturers for English for Academic Purposes). This theme of lack of transparency is a constant concern within our field. Native and non-native tutors find themselves applying for the same summer or winter jobs every year, and then they find themselves rejected without any feedback or advice. Also, in this changing world of BREXIT, many European colleagues find themselves rejected by UK universities, although having worked for them for more than five consecutive summers or subject to additional visa procedures that did not exist before BREXIT. Therefore, employment practices in our field are not improving but deteriorating rapidly. During the last few years, especially before the pandemic, there was a constant effort to mitigate the dichotomy that Macedo et al. (2015) claimed between native and non-native speakers, which is imposed by linguistic imperialism. However, after the pandemic, the world seems to have moved backwards, and this dichotomy is intensified more than ever. A recent blog article from EDDi (September 2021) highlighted how the recent changes in visa regulations have affected non-native speakers and how stakeholders and governments around the world justify their employment practices using the pandemic as an excuse.

The second research question was about how this potential discrimination could shape someone’s career. Sophia and Panos are based in the UK, and therefore their positions are relatively secure. However, they both stressed the struggle and the effort they had to make to secure those positions in UK universities, a path that was not offered easily. As for myself, I have realised that my choices are limited, and for the first time, I feel that the wiggle room I have is minimal. Leaving my current position would mean that no other province in China or university in the UK would accept me to work based on my passport. This makes me feel that I have spent almost ten years in a field that soon will close its door on me. My journey is very similar to Kiczkowiak (2016), who also reported this deep feeling of rejection that both me and Panos have felt so strongly. Spending years of studying and obtaining qualifications and gaining work experience cannot guarantee unlimited options worldwide. However, in this changing world globalisation seems to fade and give its place to increased inequality and lack of diversity.

Finally, the impact on our self-confidence and professional identity is more profound. I started doing my PhD to find another job someday and stop having this concern and fear about visa regulations and my non-native status. Both Sophia and Panos have suffered crises in their confidence and a constant threat to their professional identity. Currently, there is no specific set of qualifications required to become an EAP tutor. However, the increased needs of the field have created blurred lines and a lack of transparency that allow universities to change rules according to their preferences. I believe I was lucky that I was at the right time in the right place. I have suffered many disappointments, but my resilience and the ability to adapt to any situation led me to where I am today. Unfortunately, I had to leave the UK to find my desired position, something I could not achieve there.

Our profession’s essential is our enthusiasm for teaching, which is something familiar among us. Yamamoto and Gardos (2016) conducted a study at the University of Bristol and found that for students, the most important factor is enthusiasm in teaching, not being a native speaker, showing that students need good teachers and not necessarily native speakers. Being a native speaker should not be a prerequisite for teaching EAP, simply because we do not teach anyone how to speak English. We primarily teach skills and coach them to perform certain activities in English, such as seminar discussions (Hyland & Hamp-Lyons, 2002). Therefore, teaching qualifications and experience should matter in our profession and not the country of origin.

8. Conclusion

This paper has discussed how potential discrimination and native-speakerism can affect EAP employment practices. Additionally, by using autoethnography as a vehicle, this paper attempted to shed light on European tutors’ experiences finding stable employment in the UK and around the world. Their recounts revealed that the lack of transparency in employment practices and the lack of a specific framework could lead to discrimination. Constant effort to obtain more qualifications to be accepted within the inner circle of the profession was also an overarching theme that stems from insecurity and the linguistic imperialism that still influences EAP, which has not stopped being a subcategory of ELT in general.

One of the recommendations of this paper is that professional organisations, such as BALEAP, could help in dealing with potential discriminatory employment practices by establishing a clear set of qualifications that could validate someone as an EAP tutor. This topic could be further explored by researching the experiences of more individuals, especially after the pandemic and BREXIT. However, more time is needed to determine the damage these two events have caused in the EAP field.


This research study was undertaken as part of my PhD in e-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University. I would like to express my gratitude to Dr Kyungmee Lee, my supervisor for this study and the two colleagues who shared their stories with me, shedding a light into discrimination in our field.

I would also like to thank my partner, Konstantinos, for his continuous support in this learning journey. I hope he is proud of me.

About the author

Panagiota Tzanni, Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom.

Panagiota Tzanni

Panagiota (Penny) Tzanni is a Ph.D. student in e-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning at Lancaster University, UK. 

Panagiota’s research interests include designing and implementing online professional development in higher education. In addition, Panagiota is very interested in those constraints and barriers that do not allow faculty members to use learning technologies in higher education. For example, several institutions worldwide have initiated digital transformation projects, and faculty members are required to include learning technologies or teach online. This new reality seems challenging for some of them, and I am interested in finding out these types of professional development or training that will help them in their new roles. Finally, I am also interested in developing digital skills for higher education learners, especially in contexts with low resources or learning cultures that do not support the use of learning technologies.

Panagiota is an EAP Lecturer and Course designer at a higher education institution in Ningbo, China.

Email: [email protected]

ORCID: 0000-0003-1584-9923

Twitter: @englishtutor572

Article information

Article type: Full paper, double-blind peer review.

Publication history: Received: 02 August 2021. Revised: 11 December 2021. Accepted: 13 December 2021. Published online: 16 May 2022.

Cover image: Masaaki Komori via Unsplash.


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