The debate about inadequate English language proficiency often focuses on the wrong issues (“Scholars highlight inadequate language skills”, News, 5 February).
We should instead focus on how universities select their future students. We need to question how reliable are personal statements, references and formal English language test scores.
Courses that struggle with quality should consider adding a second stage to their admissions process. Much can be done with technology to allow assessments in groups: webinars, Skype conference calls and Google+ hangouts to name a few. These may not be accessible to all applicants, but they would cater for many.
Any such step would be a burden on staff time - but surely it wouldn’t be any worse than dealing with the fallout from having ill-qualified, ill-prepared students on courses.
The big risk is that enrolments might decline: more selection could lead to longer admissions processing times. And the more selective you are, the more applicants you are filtering out. But raising, say, the international English language testing system to 7.0 overall would arguably have the same effect.
Often ignored in this debate are cultural differences. If we accept international students, then we have to be prepared to accept that people come to us from different educational backgrounds and with different skills from those emphasised in the British higher education system. We should be sympathetic to the fact that engaging in discussion in a language that is not your first is tough. After all, our marketing materials tell students to choose
the UK to “improve your English” and get “valuable skills” gained from our wonderful teaching.