English language development and moral responsibility

by | 7 Jun, 2019 | 0 comments

Ahead of the upcoming Town Hall, 'Improving students' English language capability', Shirley Alexander, (DVC Education and Students), looks at the challenges we face in ensuring all students have a level of English language to help them thrive at uni. And importantly, our role in supporting them.

You don’t have to look far to see media reports about the impact of increasing numbers of international students in Australia.

And while it’s true that the number of international students studying in Australia has increased (in 2007 there were almost 200,000 overseas students out of a total of just over a million students (~19%), and in 2017, approximately 350,000 out of a total of approximately 1.5 million students or ~23%), it is in fact a very positive phenomenon for Australia.

Firstly, international students contribute an enormous richness to the learning experience of domestic students. We now live and work in a global environment, but given Australia’s geographical isolation, many domestic students would not have the opportunity to develop a deep understanding of other cultures without the presence of these students in their learning activities.

Secondly, about 85% of international students return to their country of origin. If they have had a good experience, that will reap enormous benefits for Australia as those graduates take their place in their home country’s businesses, industry, professions and government.

And of course, there is significant financial benefit to Australia of hosting these students. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that education is our fourth largest export and contributed $30.9 billion in 2017.

But surprisingly few Australians become international students themselves, with only 49,000 students studying overseas in 2017!

The challenges we face

The challenge for all international students – whether they’re overseas students coming to Australia, or Australian students studying in another country – is ensuring they have adequate language skills to undertake the program of study.

For us, as the university who’ll educate and support these students, there are four big questions:

  1. How can we ensure that the students we admit have a level of English language that is adequate to undertake their program of study?
  2. Once admitted, how do we continue to support students’ ongoing development of English language skills?
  3. What constitutes a good learning experience for international students?
  4. What is our moral responsibility to international students who give so much to Australia and to higher education?

How are we tackling these questions?

Firstly, we’re ensuring we have a rigorous admissions policy that is closely monitored and includes benchmarked standards.

Once students have arrived, we’re investing significant resources towards the support of their English language skills at no cost to them.

Here’s how we are doing it.

  1. We’re screening every student’s English language competence upon entry at UTS. This helps us to better identify those students in need of further English development
  2. For those identified in the screening as needing development, we’re providing intensive, compulsory language development tutorials in one of their core subjects. Towards the end of that core subject, all students then complete an existing assessment task in that subject which includes a written communication component. For those students whose language is identified as still not meeting their faculty’s required threshold, there are further language development activities available, such as grammar and writing intensive workshops.
  3. Students who do not complete the initial language screening task or who are identified but don’t attend the compulsory language development tutorials (80% attendance is required) receive an X (fail) grade for the core subject, which can later be repealed on successful completion. This process continues in to the second session of study with the aim of ensuring that all students have an adequate level of language.
  4. In the unlikely event that students who have attended tutorials and passed their subjects still have not yet reached an adequate level of language at the completion of two sessions, they will be enrolled in a purpose-designed English language subject in FASS.

Why are we devoting so many resources to this strategy you might ask? Because it’s our moral responsibility to do so.

It is through these measures that we can better ensure that the students who have made the investment to undertake their study in Australia have the necessary English language skills to thrive while studying with us.

These measures also provide a high level of support for academics as they design learning and assessment tasks that embed English language in learning within the discipline.

And it is through these measures that we create an even richer learning environment for the whole community – for students, for staff and the community. An environment that is engaging, collaborative and cross-cultural.

Join the conversation

I invite you to join the conversation at our second Town Hall exploring this topic, open to all UTS staff and students.

Town Hall meeting: Improving students’ English language capability #2 | 12 June

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