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November 19, 2013

UK universities failing to bridge culture gap

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Diane Schmitt argues that admissions processes that focus on English language skills are missing the point.

A common lament heard at UK universities among staff who come into contact with international students is that the English language tests we use for university admissions do not do their job well enough. The result is that students are "let in" to universities when their English is not up to the level required.

To test this claim it is worth examining how the university admissions system for international students currently works and whether current practices are fit for purpose.

When universities recruit international students, they check that candidates' local qualifications are comparable to their own entry requirements by referring to Naric, a government-sponsored service that tracks international qualifications. Students who need to demonstrate that they have a level of English language proficiency that will enable them to follow their chosen course are usually asked to present results from an international English language exam, such as Ielts, Toefl and now the Pearson Test of English. Finally, applicants provide additional information via personal statements and letters of recommendation from people qualified to comment on their previous academic or work-related experience.

What this system lacks is any direct method for determining whether or not prospective students' previous experience of educational practice or culture has prepared them for the approaches to study required of students in British universities.

This, in my view, is a serious gap. I have worked in the field of English for academic purposes (EAP) in UK higher education for over 18 years, and what I and my colleagues at institutions across the country regularly see is that it is often not language that confounds the international learner in our universities, but a lack of understanding of how things are intended to be done.

Read the full post from The Guardian.

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