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Union renews concerns on English skills

Australia’s National Tertiary Education Union has called on universities to ensure they do not enrol international students who are likely to struggle during their studies, renewing concerns over the recruitment of students with low English proficiency.

Bad moon rising. NTEU says international students are being admitted with low English proficiency. Photo: Paul Carmona/UnsplashBad moon rising? NTEU says international students are being admitted with low English proficiency. Photo: Paul Carmona/Unsplash

Blacker refuted claims that academic staff were being pressured to pass students with lower grades

“Staff at universities are concerned about the welfare of their students”

The union, which represents academic and administrative staff across the tertiary education sector, said HEIs must act ethically and provide adequate support services to help both domestic and international students.

“There is no doubt that increasing international student numbers leads to stressful situations for both students and staff,” NTEU president Alison Barnes said.

“Staff at universities are concerned about the welfare of their students. It’s unfair and unreasonable to expect our members to deal with the stress and increased workload associated with teaching students who cannot cope because of language difficulties.”

However, NTEU’s claims have received pushback from within the industry, with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency defending its current standards.

“TEQSA expects that all students are given every opportunity to succeed in their studies, and proficiency in English is a vital factor for international students,” TEQSA chief executive Andrew McClaran said.

“Higher education providers are also required to have measures in place to identify students who are struggling with their studies, and subsequent support services to help them succeed.”

English Australia chief executive Brett Blacker meanwhile said the claims were unjustified and said the high completion rate of international students compared to domestic students was evidence against widespread problems with substandard English.

“Unless there is evidence, then it’s just hearsay”

“It’s quite easy to pick out isolated cases and to sensationalise [it] for a story, but I think it’s important to step back and look at entire cohort analysis and as that data shows, attrition rates are lower, and success rates are actually higher than domestic,” he said.

Blacker refuted claims that academic staff were being pressured to pass international students with lower grades and said such accusations undermined the integrity of the entire tertiary education sector.

“There’s no validation that there have been any cases where academics have given way to this pressure, [and] you would hope the academic integrity of the individual would mean that they didn’t,” he told The PIE News.

“Unless there is evidence to the extent that there have been academic integrity issues by the academic, then it’s just hearsay.”

English language concerns have been in the spotlight of Australia’s international education industry for some time, with former education minister Simon Birmingham announcing new English benchmarks for pathway courses delivered via diploma during the 2017 Australian International Education Conference.

In early 2018, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, which oversees vocational providers, put an outright ban on VET-accredited English programs.

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