Foreign students deserve more English support
The article “Are students fans of peers from abroad?” (News, 9 August) reported on a survey of UK undergraduates’ views on internationalisation.
Based purely on anecdotal evidence drawn from my own experiences (as a student, an administrator and an academic), I think that some universities (possibly many) could do much more to integrate foreign and domestic students. International students, for example, are sometimes cloistered in separate halls of residence, which makes extracurricular interaction with their home student peers more difficult.
There are also issues with institutions accepting students with low English-language abilities and not offering those students enough support. Pre-sessional English courses can be effective, but students are usually cut off from language support when those courses end. Students with good English-language skills (both domestic and international) can quite naturally become frustrated when their classmates struggle to communicate or follow the discussion. But my sympathy lies with the international students who struggle because of language issues – it is unfair on them because they have been led to believe that their language capabilities were sufficient. Such students often ask me how they can improve their language skills because they do not feel that they are getting the full value out of their course. I can only direct them to online self-study materials and an underfunded and understaffed central academic skills department.
I understand why universities want to lower language standards (money, money, money), but if they do so, they must invest significantly more in supporting the students they accept.
In the spirit of the cover feature on becoming a senior manager (“Taking the lead”, 9 August), here is my take on what UK academics would like to hear in a message from an incoming vice-chancellor – honesty, humility and humour:
As I take up my new job as vice-chancellor, I wanted to start as I mean to go on – by writing to all staff to set out, plainly and honestly, how I plan to lead this university.
I took this job on three conditions. First, I wanted to be a part-time v-c, with a day a week reserved for continuing to teach, and a day for research. The appointments panel asked me how I could possibly do such a demanding job part-time, and I responded that I could not see how I could do it well without continuing to be an academic. This isn’t some sort of gesture – I love teaching and research, and I want to return to them after my time as v-c. But also, continuing to teach and research will keep me grounded in the realities of what this institution exists to do.
Second, I wanted to stay on the normal professorial salary scale. The salary on offer as v-c was more than three times the average professorial salary, and I did not think that I (or anyone else for that matter) deserved to be paid that much. I am pretty well rewarded as a professor already.
Third, I have agreed to serve a single five-year term as v-c, and I made it clear that I would continue in the role only if I were sure that I had the support and confidence not just of the board of governors but also of the majority of staff. Again, this is not an empty gesture – I don’t think that you can lead a university unless most staff are with you, and even though difficult and painful decisions sometimes have to be made, I believe in doing so in ways that retain and sustain staff engagement and support.
I’m sure that over the next five years we will face some difficult times – the future of British universities has never been more uncertain. But we have incredibly talented, creative and able staff – both academic and support staff. My job is to find ways to liberate, support, encourage, celebrate and reward staff and their achievements, while keeping the organisation heading in the right direction. I cannot do that without your support.
I will write to all staff every so often to update you. But more importantly, I will welcome your writing to me about how the university is doing and sharing your ideas for improvements.
Letters should be sent to:
Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday. For terms and conditions, see www.timeshighereducation.com