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Applied Linguistics Review

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Language tests and neoliberalism in “global human resource” development: A case of Japanese Universities

Tomoyo Okuda
Published Online: 2017-11-21 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0106


This study looks into the increasing emphasis on the use of language tests for global workplace preparation in Japan. It presents particular usages of English language tests in higher education curricula designed to foster “Global Human Resources” (GHRs), a special global workforce with high levels of English proficiency deemed necessary by the Japanese government. Focusing on a government-initiated five-year funding program, “The Project for Promotion of Global Human Resources”, government documents and the project planning sheets of 11 universities are analyzed to trace how language tests act as a form of governmentality (Foucault. 2007 [1977]. Security, territory, population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977–1978 (Trans. by Graham Burchell). New York: Palgrave Macmillan) to maximize the number of GHRs. I describe how language tests are used to portray a reality about the lack of English proficiency among Japanese youth, how they work as a powerful accountability measure for universities, and how these tests are incorporated into language education curricula with the goal of increasing students’ language capital. Three functions of language tests are then identified in the universities’ proposed curricula: motivating, categorizing, and prioritizing through testing. These governing techniques represent how language tests can work to promote neoliberal forms of international education that instrumentalize language learning, stimulate inequitable competition, and (un)reward certain global subjectivities.

Keywords: Japanese universities; Global Human Resources; language tests


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-11-21

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0106.

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