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UK unis look to support incoming boarding alumni

A new survey shows concern among UK international boarding school students about learning at degree level despite already studying in the UK for several years.

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"What is seen as plagiarism in our culture is seen as respect for research sources in another, and this needs to be overtly explained"

The study – conducted by the UKI Student & School Forum – of over 80 UKI students at upper levels of UK boarding schools suggested that, despite already studying in the UK, potentially for several years, they are anxious about their ability to learn effectively at degree level.

Asked to rank the challenges of moving to higher education, the students’ top answer was “learning at degree level”, while “picking the wrong degree” was the second most common answer, followed by “cost” in third place.

“Academic language proficiency (CALP) needs to be supported by schools and universities”

“Our recent UKI Forum survey confirmed anecdotal evidence over many years that international students continue to experience difficulties in achieving their academic potential long after they enter the UK system,” Caroline Nixon, director of BAISIS and International Director of Boarding School Association observed.

“Academic language proficiency (CALP) needs to be supported by schools and universities for years after a student achieves basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS).”

Launched earlier this year, UKI Student & School Forum was created by BSA/BAISIS, UK Education Guide and the Universities of Exeter and Sheffield to help universities engage directly with the approximately 500 BSA and BAISIS member schools in the UK that have international students.

The two institutions playing key roles in the project have initiated ongoing additional support for international students transferring to higher education.

At the University of Sheffield, the English language support & development provided at the English Language Centre features subject-specific classes designed to develop academic and technical English.

“Our ‘301 skills centre’ supports students to improve their academic language skills through workshops on topics such as university jargon, note taking and academic writing,” said Jess Heaney, senior student recruitment officer (Postgraduate and UK based international) within the Student Recruitment, Marketing and Admissions team.

Likewise, the University of Exeter offers a wide range of English language support classes and its Study Zone provides 1:1 appointments, writing cafes, events and workshops.

“The Writing Café, for example, is an informal, relaxed study space for all students to gain advice and guidance on any aspect of their written work, ” said Sue O’Hara, student support officer: Transition and Integration.

“Additionally, each student’s personal tutor will proactively signpost students to the relevant support, if it is clear additional English support is needed and the students haven’t got the confidence to reach out to these resources themselves,” added Taylor Wearne, regional manager for UK, Europe & Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Forum noted there has never been a more important time to review English language support at universities, while also marrying up support with developing new learning skills.

A 2018 study researchers at the University of York found that international students know on average half as many English words as home students, despite attaining strong IELTS scores.

An additional report by The Times in 2016 found that students in the UK from outside the European Union were more than four times as likely to be caught cheating as their classmates from inside the bloc, including the UK.

With contract cheating set to be outlawed in England, Pat Moores from UK Education Guide added that there are key cultural issues to address.

“Banning essay mills will cut off access to ‘quick wins’ for students, but challenges adapting to learning 100% in a second or third language, alongside pedagogical and cultural challenges, still remain,” she said.

“What is seen as plagiarism in our culture is seen as respect for research sources in another, and this needs to be overtly explained to students so that they don’t plagiarise or, in our eyes, cheat,” Nixon added.

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