Accountability of Higher Education to the Business Community
Dr. Francine Robinson
Holon Institute of Technology
“The goal of language curriculum development processes is to produce relevant,
effective and efficient language teaching programs.” (Richards, 1984, p. 3)
One of the first questions we must ask ourselves before beginning to teach an
academic business English course is: What do the students need to learn? Do they
need just academic English for present target needs? Do they need occupational
English for future business needs? Or do they need both? Then we must ask: Who
should make this decision? Which stakeholders should be involved in the design of
If students are taught only present academic needs, are the academic institutions
fulfilling their function by not preparing students for their future professions?
In order to answer these questions, in the context of Israeli academic institutions, I
will first tell you about the importance of the English language and English language
learning in Israel, so that you can understand the historical, sociological and
pedagogical importance of business English. Since the English language is so
intertwined with Israeli society, it is crucial to determine whether students of higher
education are receiving the necessary tools to cope.
English holds a prominent place in Israeli society: it is part of a status symbol, bearing
connotations to American and Western culture. It is not only a necessary language for
communication with the outside world, it is a language that confers legitimacy on its
users; it is a belief in globalization. English is not only a need; it is a requirement for
acceptance in Israel.
English language learning officially dates back to the time of the British Mandate in
Palestine after World War I. Although Hebrew and Arabic were the languages spoken
in Israel at the time, the language of the rulers was English and therefore, English
became the language of government, education and mass communication and it was
the most important subject in the high school syllabus (Lockard, 1998).
Israel became more exposed to the Western world in 1967. There was increased
immigration from English-speaking countries, improved tourism from and to Israel,
and stronger economic and political ties to the United States, which led to a greater
need of English. The world of mass communication and hi-tech also made English
English Teaching in the Educational System
The Israeli Ministry of Education, realizing the significance of English in all facets of
Israel society, stated in 1988: “[English is] the principal means of international
communication today… a World Language” (Ministry of Education, 1988, pp. 5-6).
Further, in 1996, The Policy for Language Education in Israel decreed that English
was Israel’s first foreign language. In fact, students cannot receive a high school
diploma, nor enter an academic institution, without passing the matriculation exam in
At present, English is mandatory from primary school through 12th grade, and in
university (for those who have not received an exemption) (Hallel and Spolsky,
In 2001, a new English curriculum was introduced into the Israeli school system. The
goals of this curriculum are to set standards in four domains: social interaction, access
to information, presentation, and appreciation of literature, culture and language.
Institutions of Higher Education
Even though most pupils study English from primary through high-school, many
students enter academic institutions without the necessary exemption, and must take
extra courses. A considerable gap exists between the high school and the academic
English syllabus. While high school students are taught reading of popular texts,
writing, listening and speaking skills, higher education emphasizes, to the exclusion
of all other skills, the reading of academic texts.
I want to emphasize that the English language department in higher education is
considered a service, rather than an academic, department. This means that English is
relegated to a minor position in the course of studies. Students view these courses as a
necessary burden. Furthermore, in many institutions, the final grade in English is not
calculated into the students’ average. Therefore, most students merely want to “pass”.
In addition, the administration views English as an obstacle to some students who
need to graduate, since these students may have finished all their required course
study except for English. This presents a significant economic burden on the
Since Israeli students are usually older than their counterparts in other countries, they
are anxious to finish their course study as soon as possible. They immediately enter
the job market, if they haven’t started working already, and expect their academic
courses, including English, to be more goal oriented, so they do not have to take
additional courses after graduation.
English academic courses in Israel are reading comprehension courses, requiring the
reading of syllabus dictated academic texts and answering follow-up questions. In
many institutions few, if any, speaking, listening and writing skills are taught or
tested. On the other hand, most companies prefer candidates who have already
acquired these skills, if for no other reason, than to save the employer the burden of
paying for an English course. In fact, many places of business test potential
employees on their oral and written English skills before they are accepted for the job.
Unfortunately, although a student may complete the obligatory English academic
course with the highest of grades, s/he may lack the English skills that are
indispensable in the business community, and may not be hired.
If the necessity for English is paramount in Israeli life, then Israeli students should be
receiving the necessary skills to succeed in this environment. We must then ask:
Should we hold higher education accountable for the preparation of students for the
The Importance of English in the Israeli Business World
It is impossible to minimize the importance of English in Israel: shops advertise their
names in both Hebrew and English, or sometimes just in English; restaurant and street
signs are in English. Furthermore, Hebrew vocabulary has been anglicized to the
extent that many words such as telephone, TV, video, and more have been entirely
borrowed from English, even though there may be comparable Hebrew words.
English is also used as 'neutral territory' in debates, discussions, forums and cultural
activities between Arabs and Jews.
The multinational companies in Israel prefer employees with English reading, writing
and conversational skills. Also, Israeli businesspeople travel abroad and foreign
businesspeople come to Israel, which necessitates both business and social English
skills. Hi-tech, one of Israel’s most important sectors, demands the knowledge of all
Therefore, employees should have acquired the necessary business English skills
during their academic studies, since the knowledge of English may make the
difference between being hired or fired.
It is for these reasons that higher education should be accountable to all stakeholders
regarding business English courses.
What is interesting is that in Hebrew, until recently, there was no precise definition
for accountability, although accountability is a common term in English. The Alcalay
Hebrew-English Dictionary (p. 28) defines 'accountability' as ‘( ’אחריותachrayut).
However, the Hebrew word ( אחריותachrayut) (p. 63) is defined in English as 'surety,
warranty, guarantee, responsibility, liability, and insurance'. In the definition of
Hebrew to English the word accountability does not appear. Recently the word ‘
( ’דיווחיתdivuchit), from the Hebrew root'( 'דווחdivuach), meaning ‘reporting’, began
to connote accountability. The question therefore arises as to whether the lexical void
in Hebrew implies a lack of awareness of accountability? Does the lack of the word
imply the lack of the act? Does the coinage of a new lexeme imply a new awareness
in Israel? Can we now expect more attention to be paid to accountability? If so, have
institutions of higher education in Israel been affected by this change?
In demanding that the academic institutions provide occupational English skills to
their students, we are saying that these institutions must be accountable to those
stakeholders who have an interest in business English courses. The question then
arises, who are these stakeholders?
The three stakeholders are: the educator, those that employ the educator, and those for
whom the course is designed – in other words - the institutions of higher education,
the business community and the students.
Then we must ask: What is accountability? Although there are many explanations and
conditions for accountability, I have chosen one that is best suited to our purposes:
accountability implies “a statement of explanation of one's conduct; a statement or
exposition of reasons, causes, grounds or motive [and] being obligated or subject to
giving an account" (Wagner, 1989, p. 138). There are two conditions necessary to
establish obligations of accountability. The first condition is a responsibility on the
part of academic institutions to the stakeholders involved in business English courses.
The second condition entitles these stakeholders (academic institutions, students and
the business community) to receive some form of accounting. These two conditions,
responsibility and entitlement, involve a give and take on the part of all the
stakeholders (Wagner, 1989).
Why should higher education be held accountable? Higher education today is
expected to give practical training of effective skills for employment (Toohey, 1999).
Furthermore, higher education must be aware of the job market and its needs (Elbaz,
2000). Since the business world is globalized, and English is the language of
globalization, higher education is forced to meet the needs of the globalized business
world and supply this need to their students in order to educate for superior human
Who should be responsible for the accounting? Accountability entails that information
from the institutions must be provided to those who benefit from the courses and that
necessary changes must be made when needed (Popham, 1973). Therefore, a system
of checks and balances between the stakeholders must be maintained and courses
should be periodically examined, analyzed and revised. If course design is solely the
responsibility of academic institutions, courses would rarely take into consideration
the needs of the students and the business community. Academic institutions should
be accountable to students for the quality and relevancy of the students’ education,
and to the business community for the quality and content of the courses.
How should higher education be accountable to its stakeholders?
Accountability of higher education to itself depends upon whether the
institution’s objectives are being fulfilled, whether these objectives are
suitable to the course of study, whether effective action is taken to achieve
these objectives and how objectives are being measured.
Accountability of higher education to its students depends upon how the
institutions perceive the student community, whether the institutions answer
the students’ future employment needs, whether students participate in
determining course study and whether the knowledge transmitted and
generated by the institutions serves the student body.
Accountability of higher education to the business community depends upon
priorities imposed by the business community on higher education and how
they affect business English, elements of collaboration between the business
community and the institutions, and business community’s expectations from
(Neave, 2000, p. 4; Bligh et al, 1999, p. 37; and Nakamura, 2000, p. 81).
This study investigates the accountability of Israeli academic institutions to all
stakeholders involved in business English courses.
Three groups of stakeholders were questioned: 150 students and thirty-one teachers
from six institutions and thirty-one business people from 31 companies. All teachers
teach business English, and students were business administration students from the
Quantitative data was collected through questionnaires and qualitative data consisted
of interviewing six representatives from each stakeholder group.
The questionnaires were coded numerically to assure anonymity and the data were
analyzed using SPSS statistical software.
Profession – business people
Banks Investment Pharmaceuticals
Hi-Tech Marketing Non-Profit Organizat
The business people worked in banks, hi-tech industries, investment companies,
marketing companies, pharmaceutical companies and non-profit organizations. All of
these companies are either multi-nationals or have globalized business dealings that
Do you administer a needs analysis during the course?
A needs analysis is essential in order to determine whether the needs of all the
stakeholders are being taken into consideration during course design.
Only one out of 31 teachers administered a needs analysis to students.
he interviews demonstrated that teachers were not fully aware of needs analysis
construction. No teacher gives a needs analysis to the business community. Some
teachers felt that it was impractical to give a needs analysis to students; it gives
students too much “autonomy”; “they don’t understand what they have to learn”;
“they don’t see the real world skills” and “needs analysis turns out to be a preference
and once you give it to them you have to act on it”.
It is interesting to note that two out of the five students interviewed did not think that
a needs analysis was necessary because it has “no real meaning” and because
“everyone will answer differently”. However, one student did feel that it was a “good
idea” since “if the students write what they actually feel perhaps the teacher will do
something about it”.
The majority of the business people felt that the business community should be
questioned, and that their opinions may be more beneficial than those of the students.
Do you administer an evaluation?
An evaluation of business English courses enables verification about whether these
courses are actually meeting the goals of all the stakeholders. It is also important that
appropriate action is taken once the results are evaluated.
Only one teacher out of 31 teachers conducted a course evaluation.
During the interviews teachers’ felt that the ideal is to ask the students once they’ve
entered the job market if this course really helped them in the real world.
One businessperson felt that there should be a “constant dialogue between the
educators and the business community … It may be good to bring a representative
from the business community to test the students and then tell the teachers what’s
missing from the course”. He also felt that an evaluation should only be given once
the student started working at a place of work.
Four out of five students felt that it was important to have an evaluation at the end of
the course. In fact, one student felt that there should be mid-course evaluations in
order to improve the current course.
How often are courses revised?
every 2-5 years rarely
A revision of courses can take place in response to a needs analysis or a course
evaluation. Although 21 of the 31 teachers revise course material every two to five
years, teachers were not aware of why course material was revised.
The reactions of the students were: “The administration will make some minor
changes, but they will not make any major course changes”; “No one in the
administration will pay attention. . .”
Three out of five business people felt that they were not familiar enough with
academic institutions and the way policy is made to answer this question.
English is a necessity in the Israeli business community.
29 group type
strongly agree agree neither agree nor disagree strongly disagree
As you can see the majority of all three stakeholders ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ with
this statement – 97% of teachers; 83% of students and 90% of business people.
When interviewed, all three stakeholders mentioned that English is of the utmost
importance in the business world. One teacher said that it is the “language of
international communication; the language of business”. One business person stated
that Israeli companies are becoming globalized and English is the first or the only
common language. Students also felt that English is essential.
Business English should be taught in institutions of higher education.
0 6 6 business
It is important to determine who should take the responsibility for teaching business
English. The results show that 83 percent of the students and 94 percent of both
teachers and business people agreed that institutions of higher education should teach
Business communication skills
If institutions of higher education are responsible for business English courses, it is
necessary to determine which English skills are needed and which are actually being
In an investigation conducted by St. John (1996), the following were identified as
business skills needed for business companies: (St. John, 1996, p.6)
Socializing Report writing
Taking part in meetings
Subjects included in English courses and subjects for employment.
Teachers: What subjects were included in English courses?
Business Community: What English subjects are necessary for work?
Subject Teachers Business
Problem 19.4% 83.9%
Business 54.8% 93.5%
Writing 22.6% 77.4%
Conversation 38.7% 90.3%
Presentation 38.7% 93.5%
Correspondence 3.2% 93.5%
Meetings and 80.6%
Reading 100.0% 77.4%
Grammar 22.6% 54.8%
This is an expanded list of the business English skills, compiled from suggestions by
all three stakeholders. Over 90 percent of the business people questioned chose four
out of the nine skills: business vocabulary, conversation, presentation and
correspondence. Business vocabulary is the only skill that was not included in St.
The only subject chosen by all teachers was reading, and the only subject chosen by
over 50% of the teachers was business vocabulary, subjects not included in St. John’s
list. This shows a discrepancy between what is perceived as needed and what is
taught. Institutions are only taking into consideration present academic needs.
Students: Which subjects should be included in English courses
Problem Solving - 86.0%
Business Vocabulary - 94.0%
Writing - 85.3%
Conversation - 96.0%
Presentation - 92.0%
Correspondence - 96.7%
Meetings and Negotiations - 96.0%
Reading - 95.3%
Grammar - 66.7%
The students’ answers imply their lack of ability to discern between subjects, since
over 85 percent of all students chose all subjects except for grammar (66.7%). Also,
students may be designating their wants and desires rather than their needs
When students were interviewed they stated that all skills should be included in
English courses. However, the students emphasized that oral skills should be taught
since these are necessary for future employment.
Although this may illustrate that students may not be capable of actually designing
courses, we can assume that students definitely want to be taught future occupational
Should the business community be consulted concerning business English
0 6 business
Since the business community is one of the stakeholders, and probably the only one,
who can provide relevant information as to occupational needs, it should be necessary
to consult them before designing the courses. No institution, or any individual teacher,
consults the business community. Results clearly show that most teachers do not feel
that it is necessary to consult the business community, while business people do feel
that they should be included. While the academic institutions believe that these should
stress academic reading skills to the exclusion of all other skills, the business
community feels that their prospective employees should be taught occupational
Although businesspeople stated that they did not feel they were capable of making
pedagogical or methodological decisions, their input could help with course content
for future employment needs. As one business person put it: “Methodology and
materials should be determined by educators; input into course design should come
from the business community.”
All students saw the business community taking a part in course design. Some felt the
students should not be involved, but all saw the teachers taking an active pedagogical
role and making the final decision. Therefore, students were more aware than teachers
of the contribution the business community could make.
Conclusion: Are the Institutions Accountable?
Do business English courses answer students’ academic needs?
Percent 13 group type
3 3 teachers
strongly agree neither agree nor strongly disagree
Teachers are solely teaching for academic needs, and the institutions are ignoring
business needs, and even failing to consult with the business community.
In the questionnaire, 49% of students strongly agree or agree that business English
courses answer academic needs. However, when interviewed, all students were
emphatic concerning the fact that they did not learn anything in English. “Waste of
time” and “no improvement” described most of their feelings.
One teacher said that students “do not know what their long term needs are” and they
just want to finish the course with a decent grade. Teachers also felt that if they teach
more business skills, then students may be more willing to study English and feel that
they have gained important skills.
English courses provide future employment skills for students.
24 25 group type
16 16 16 students
3 5 3
strongly agree neither strongly disagree
44% of students felt that they are not receiving future employment skills, in contrast
to 19% of teachers and business people. This indicates a general dissatisfaction on the
part of the students However, a proportionally large percentage of teachers and
business people - 55% and 45% respectively - had no opinion regarding future
professional needs. This shows that neither group is aware of, or familiar with, subject
material required by the business community and subject material being taught by the
All students interviewed felt that they did not gain anything from the course as far as
future occupational English skills.
One teacher said that she just fulfilled academic needs, since this is what the course
Business people felt that the educational system has an obligation to teach English for
the professional world, and does not do this.
Results and Recommendations
According to this study, academic institutions only teach present academic and not
future professional needs and teachers are unaware of future occupational needs.
Since there is no evidence of needs analysis and evaluation being administered, there
is no way to assess student and business needs and measure whether courses fulfill
these needs. There is also no way to determine whether the knowledge generated and
transmitted by the institutions serves the students in their future occupations.
Although most students agree that learning English is a necessity, they do not believe
that business English courses provide them with the necessary tools to cope in the
business world and, therefore, feel that they have “wasted their time” and have gained
little or nothing from the course.
Furthermore, there is no collaboration between the business community and the
institutions; therefore the institutions are unaware of the business community’s
expectations regarding business English courses.
One recommendation involves broadening involvement which entails inviting guest
lecturers from the business community to give courses in English in areas that are
pertinent and relevant to business needs. The English teachers could reinforce these
lectures by teaching relevant vocabulary and texts.
In order to create a dialogue between the business and academic community a
consulting group of representatives from each community can be set up. Updates and
revisions of course material can be prepared every two to four years, relying on
evaluations and discussions with the business community and input from the other
Needs analysis, evaluation and course improvement will also lead to more
accountable courses in the following ways:
A needs analysis should be conducted during the student’s last year of studies, since,
by this time, students will be familiar with the needs of the academic institution. This
analysis will be beneficial for incoming students.
The business community should be questioned approximately every two to four years.
Since it is impossible to interview the whole business community, a core of
representatives from various business fields can be chosen to participate.
Students should be tracked after completion of studies and upon entering their places
of business, and then an evaluation of academic business courses should be
administered. Each institution should take upon itself to follow approximately 20
students and administer an evaluation every two to four years. Once evaluations are
analyzed, courses can then be revised or totally changed according to the results.
Improvement can only come through awareness of stakeholders’ needs through
evaluations. Ongoing consultation with the business community should take place.
Constant teacher training seminars for those who teach business English courses, so
as to update teachers on business concepts, vocabulary and theories, should be
required of the teachers. Mini-seminars should be provided for teachers in various
communicative skills, such as presentation and negotiation, so that teachers become
familiar with specific teaching methodology.
Many institutions are initiating Executive BA programs, which is a combined work-
study program. Courses are geared toward the professional knowledge that students
need at their place of work.
By creating a productive partnership with the business community, academic
institutions can meet learning needs as well as understand the business infrastructures
that support these educational models and share the responsibility of producing
effective employees. There is a great deal of trial and error involved in course
development, however, positive outcomes will guarantee a more motivated student
body and a more effective employee.
Once institutions adopt these measures they will become more accountable to the
stakeholders involved in business English courses.