English becomes passport to entry

December 29, 1995

Would-be students at Auckland University may have to prove their competence in English language before they can enrol.

The university has been concerned for some time about the standard of English of many students, particularly new migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds.

A report for last month's university council meeting found "depressing evidence" that a considerable number of students from non-English speaking backgrounds, mainly permanent residents, had not acquired the English language skills they needed to cope with studies at an academic level.

For native speakers of English, evidence of declining standards was largely anecdotal, "though critical comment is widespread among teaching staff and should not be dismissed because it is anecdotal," the report said.

It said a large number of students (more than 50 per cent overall, of those enrolled in some of the university's professional and specialist degrees) were not studying English or other language intensive subjects in their final year at school. "Many are beginning to specialise narrowly even earlier, at sixth form.

"The university is in danger of producing a significant number of graduate accountants, economists, engineers, doctors and others with limited communication skills, at a time when such skills are increasingly seen as essential in professional life and citizenship," it said.

The report recommended that students intending to study at Auckland should specialise less at school, and continue with English, mathematics, a science, one of the humanities or social sciences, and a second language to a senior level.

It proposed that, after 1997, competence in English for entrance be assessed on the basis of both course work and an examination.

It said difficulty with English was not a sign of lack of ability, and in imposing entry standards, the university should commit itself to mounting courses in English language for students who needed them to realise their academic potential.

As the law stands, New Zealand citizens and permanent residents cannot be excluded from entry to university because their English is inadequate, though English language competency can be made a criterion for selection for over-subscribed courses.

There is also uncertainty over the future entry requirements, with unit standards (the currency of the new qualifications framework) likely to be one component for entrance and selection in 1997.

The national exam which sets the minimum entrance standard, is likely to become optional, standing outside the framework. Despite this, the university adopted the report's recommendations as policy, and is now looking at ways to implement them.

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