Countering commodification in EAP: The need to explore, innovate and transform

Ian Bruce and Alex Ding


For several decades, higher education institutions have been reshaped by the combined neoliberal policies of financialization, marketization and managerialism (Ding & Bruce, 2017; Fosket, 2011). These influences have also resulted in the reshaping of important aspects of the field of EAP as a result of commodification; commodification here is taken to mean assigning an economic value to something not previously seen in economic terms. For example, commodification has shaped the perceived roles and organizational structures of language centres through the outsourcing of EAP provision to global companies. Commodification is also apparent in the area of EAP materials (and by extension pedagogy) as the result of a CEFR-benchmarked, TESOL-textbook approach taken by some publishers. This paper briefly reports the findings of two separate studies that have investigated the issue of commodification in EAP, both of which employed document analysis. The first study examined data around the outsourcing and privatization of language centres. This study documents a progressive increase in takeovers of EAP units by global companies worldwide over more than a decade, and considers how this phenomenon is shaping EAP, both within the outsourced/privatized units and beyond. The second study involved a materials analysis, focusing on the constituency of CEFR-benchmarked, TESOL-type textbook series often used in EAP courses. The study considers the effects of their use on the core EAP practitioner activities of needs analysis, an analytic syllabus and the development of students’ discourse competence through genre-based pedagogy. These findings, as part of the broader trend of commodification, will then be discussed in relation to practitioner identity, scholarship and praxis. The chapter concludes with suggestions of ways in which EAP practitioners can respond to this current wave of commodifying tendencies in EAP.