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  • Supporting Students: International Students

    Edited by B.S. Rushton, A. Cook and K.A. Macintosh

    The STAR (Student Transition and Retention) Project

    www.ulster.ac.uk/star

    Supported by the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (Phase Four)

    © B.S. Rushton, A. Cook and K.A. Macintosh, 2006

    This publication may be reproduced in full or in part provided appropriate acknowledgement is made to the STAR Project and to the authors.

    ISBN 978-1-85923-207-1

    Published by the University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, BT52 1SA

    Printed in the United Kingdom by the University of Ulster, Coleraine

  • The STAR Project

    Student Transition and Retention

    Supporting Students: International Students

    Contents

    Page

    Preface 4

    The Challenge of Supporting International Students to Ensure Academic Success

    7

    Brian S. Rushton

    Support for International Higher Education Students in the UK

    13

    David Southall, Brian S. Rushton, Anne Hagan, Claire Kane and Sinead McCormick

    University of Sunderland Retention Initiatives for International Students

    41

    Siobhan L. Devlin

    Acknowledgements 69

  • Preface The purpose of this booklet is to describe practices that have worked in some institutions to ease the stresses of students’ transition into Higher Education and to help to improve retention. This is important because student retention has become a significant issue both for students and for institutions. Students waste valuable time and resources if they drop out from a university course in which they have invested their hopes and aspirations and institutions waste money and staff effort. Early withdrawal of students frustrates the purposes of all. It is, however, just the measurable component of a more general malaise. For every student who takes the decision to leave a course there must be many more who are just able to pass, who are just able to cope with the stresses of Higher Education and who are failing to reach their full potential. Equally, there will be students at university who should never have joined or who should have joined a different course. They might be too immature, too deficient in the basic skills required or their talents might lie in different directions.

    Every institution that has highlighted student retention as a significant component of its strategies has investigated the causes of early leaving and most will have drawn similar conclusions. The STAR consortium was formed at a time when the generality of these causes was becoming apparent but the responses to them were less clear. The first action of the consortium was to list a set of outcomes that, if achieved, would contribute to the alleviation of problems associated with student transition. These we published as the Guidelines for the management of student transition (Cook et al., 2005). The consortium then identified practices that were likely to assist the achievement of the outcomes in the Guidelines booklet and researched them.

    The STAR booklets, of which this is one, are small compendiums of practices that have worked in some institutions to ease the stresses of students’ transition into Higher Education. Many have been shown to improve retention. Many are the practical expression of institutional policies. All are descriptions of the dedicated work of teaching and support staff in the Higher Education sector who have introduced, maintained or developed practices for the benefit of students. The practices are derived from three sources. First, some were identified through survey. These were researched by STAR staff and written in collaboration with practitioners. Second, some staff volunteered to write about their practices independently. Third, some new practices were introduced and some existing ones evaluated using funding provided by the STAR project. Most practices have been described by staff and then validated by students through questionnaires or focus groups. All the reports contained in these booklets have been refereed independently and then approved by the STAR Steering Group.

    This booklet describes the practices in enough detail to allow others to adopt or advocate that practice in their own institutions. The practices, however, should not be considered as definitive. They work in the institutions in which they were implemented by the staff who implemented them and with the students who participated. They are unlikely to remain the same. They will almost certainly evolve further even in the institutions in which they have

  • been described and, when adopted elsewhere, will need to be adapted to suit local conditions. They are, therefore, offered as foundations on which to build appropriate practices to suit the staff, the students and learning environments involved.

    REFERENCE Cook, A., Rushton, B.S., McCormick, S.M. and Southall, D.W. (2005). Guidelines for the

    management of student transition. University of Ulster, Coleraine.

    The Challenge of Supporting International Students to Ensure Academic Success

  • Brian S. Rushton, The STAR Project, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, BT52 1SA

    The media spotlight has recently been focussed on the future of science, and particularly, though not exclusively, on physics and chemistry in our UK universities (Anon, 2005). The Institute of Physics has recorded a 30% reduction in the number of university physics courses since 1997 and since 1994 28 Higher Education institutions have ceased teaching undergraduate chemistry – and in the last two years, five universities have indicated that they intend to close their chemistry departments (Cookson, 2004); the latest to be threatened with closure was the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sussex (Hackett, 2006) though this threat has now receded. In schools, chemistry is often seen now as just a means of entry into medical and the veterinary sciences rather than as a means to enter chemistry- related degrees (Byers et al., 2004). Some of the difficulties experienced by institutions are thought to result from a general decline in students’ interest for ‘hard science’ and the application figures seem to support this view – from 1997 to 2003, chemistry applications fell from 3,900 to 2,700 whilst physics applications declined from 3,500 to 3,200 (Cookson, 2004).

    Increasingly, universities are turning to the recruitment of overseas students to ‘fill the gap’. As Jaggi (2004) points out: “If science and research in UK universities has a problem, then overseas students are very much part of the solution – both financially and academically.” The total Higher Education course fees in 2002-03 were £3.4 billion – 31.8% of this total came from overseas (non-EU) students even though they represented only 8.5% of the student population (Jaggi, 2004). Whilst the number of EU (non-UK) science students has remained more or less unchanged at about 40,000 between 1999-00 and 2002-03 the number of science students from overseas, non-EU has increased from about 45,000 to over 70,000. Indeed, in some universities, international students now make up a significant part of the undergraduate population – within the Russell Group of universities about 33% of the undergraduate population is international (Jaggi, 2004). Inevitably, with the increased pressure on science departments, the size of this cohort will continue to grow.

    Until recently, China has been the major country targeted by UK universities in their drive to maximise recruitment from overseas but recent data suggest that this source may have peaked. For entrance in September 2006, UCAS data indicate a fall of 13.6% of Chinese student applications (Tysome, 2006). However, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of students applying from India – this year (2005-06) has seen an increase of 7% and between 2002-03 and 2004-05 the numbers increased by 31% (Tysome, 2006). To support this recruitment, the Chancellor of the University of Oxford will visit India in 2006 and the University of Wolverhampton has opened an office in New Delhi. The British Council is also funding an education and research initiative (Tysome, 2006).

  • This will, of course, pose significant problems for front-line academics, course directors, administrators, resource providers, technicians, etc. as they have to adjust to the cultural and academic differences between home and international students and the complexities of having classes with both groups. This problem is further exacerbated by the differences between international students; unfortunately, they cannot be treated as a homogeneous cohort. For example, at the University of Ulster there is a sizeable group from English- speaking countries (particularly the US), students from central Europe (particularly Germany, France, Italy and Greece) and from the East and Far East. In this last group, students from Taiwan, mainland China, Japan and Hong Kong are well represented but even they do not form a homogeneous group. Also, a switch from a support system focussed on one group (e.g. the large influx of Chinese students in recent years) to the different needs of students from another country (e.g. the large increases being seen in students from India) will, in itself, cause difficulties.

    The experiences recounted in this booklet describe how two institutions, the University of Sunderland and the University of Ulster have attempted to support foreign students to ensure that they are well integrated into both college and academic life

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