Among their responsibilities, LLAs assist international students develop soft skills, improve their English proficiency, and work with academic staff to develop and internationalise the curriculum.
The paper, which interviewed 250 Australian university staff, including 44 LLAs, found many received low to no professional development from their work, observing that this likely resulted in universities missing out on enhanced returns on investment.
“For the majority of higher education institutions, LLAs are general or professional staff”
“There’s consistency coming up from the conversation with LLAs that there’s a critical lack of professional development targeted at supporting their work in international students’ language and learning skills,” said the report’s co-author Ly Tran.
Tran, who is also associate professor in Deakin University’s school of education, explained part of the reason for limited professional development opportunities was due to a lack of understanding of LLAs’ role.
She said this mixture of academic and administration work left many “marginalised and unrecognised”.
“For some institutions, LLAs are academic staff, but for the majority of higher education institutions, they’re general or professional staff,” she said.
“Some of them don’t see the need to be engaged because they don’t see a progression in their career”
The report also observed as a career, LLAs have only existed for around 20 years, and the Association for Academic Language and Learning didn’t launch until 2005.
These factors lead to limited funding for targeted professional development, which is often instead earmarked for either academic research or administrative compliance.
Casualisation of roles and perceived lack of career progression also meant a handful of advisors did not see value or did not believe they had enough spare time during work hours to participate and chose either not to engage or seek development opportunities out.
“Some of them don’t see the need to be engaged because they don’t see a progression in their career trajectory,” Tran told The PIE News.
Fewer LLAs receiving professional development is a missed opportunity, according to Tran, who said many providers didn’t enhance their value proposition and return on investment, calling on representative bodies to increase their development output.
“We’re now in a position to… benchmark what it means to be a professional or academic in international education.”
“One of the critical things is a more holistic, coordinated and coherent approach across the higher education sector, in which the international education sector has an important role in order to ensure better recognition of their work and valuable contribution to the learning of international students,” she said.
Peter Muntz, communications manager at IEAA, agreed with Tran, saying there was a lot to be gained from institutions upskilling their staff.
“Academics often segue into professional roles and vice versa,” he said.
“The best institutions have a good combination of academics and professional staff, who have exposure to both type of roles.”
Muntz added professional development opportunities had increasingly become a focus for IEAA, resulting in the development of a Professional Learning Framework, which he oversees, to provide low-cost professional development opportunities as part of its 2018-2020 strategy.
The PLF, he said, reflected a broadening understanding of international education as a professional industry.
“Many people at the forefront of the sector, particularly in the early days, describe it as being something of a ‘cottage industry’,” he said.
“People really had to learn by doing. We’re now in a position to provide consistent learning frameworks and work towards a standard benchmark of what it means to be a professional or academic in international education.”