Monday, August 17, 2015

International Students Raising Australian Higher Education Standards

In "Foreign students and declining higher education standards"(Online Opinion, 14 August 2015),  Associate Professor Murray Hunter says "Academic standards have slipped ever since the influx of massive numbers of foreign students. Higher education is not what it was before". That may be true at his institution, Universiti Malaysia Perlis, but is not my experience in Australia. Australian academics are respected by the community (look at them all on the TV News) and by students.

The classes I teach have about 25% international students, but this has not resulted in a drop in standards and instead has increased them. This has forced an improvement in the quality of teaching and assessment.

Language proficiency is an issue with international students (and also many domestic students). I give my students small writing exercises early in a course and send those who are having difficulty off for remedial writing classes. Some programs include compulsory "professional communication" courses for all students.

Professor Hunter's proposal for 'special English' in teaching would undermine the value of an Australian university education for international students, who can gain greater proficiency in the use of English for their future workplace. The training of university educators does include advice on the use of language and providing students with additional support, such as glossaries of special terms.

There are incentives for academics to improve teaching methods and there has been considerable experimentation with flipped classrooms, e-leaning and blended learning (I gave up giving "lectures" in 2009). I don't think today's students read less, it is just that academics have a more realistic idea of what students actually do. Some academics have difficulty coping with this new world of metrics and mobiles, but formal training in how to teach helps.

The field of Entrepreneurship (singled out by Professor Hunter) is one in which I believe Australia universities (in particular in Canberra) are making a considerable contribution. Recently I dropped in on the Cambridge University Entrepreneurial School and did not see anything to rival Canberra's blending of university and business at the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN).

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