Foreign recruits no threat to quality

April 6, 2007

Rammell denies spiralling workloads linked to internationalisation, says Rebecca Attwood.

Bill Rammell, Higher Education Minister, this week washed his hands of complaints that the rise in international student numbers is leading to an increased workload for academics.

In an interview with The Times Higher , he said that he genuinely didn't believe that poor language skills were a widespread problem, and he unequivocally welcomed the rise in overseas students.

Last week, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed that the number of students from outside Europe enrolling at UK universities had risen by 2 per cent in the past year.

This came as academics at the University of Central Lancashire claimed the rise in overseas student numbers was contributing to a "plague of plagiarism" and a "downgrading" of the learning experience for home students.

Mr Rammell said that while he believed good language skills were "critically important", it was the responsibility of universities to ensure overseas students were able to "operate effectively" in English.

He said: "The figures are very good news - it is an indicator of the high quality of provision in British universities. International students bring £5 billion a year to the UK economy, and they add to the diversity of students on campus."

On the issue of plagiarism, he said: "Obviously, the system needs to ensure that systems are in place to address plagiarism. The Quality Assurance Agency and the Joint Information Systems Committee both provide advice, and educational tools are available.

"If there are instances of plagiarism, I think institutions need to respond to that. Overseas students need clear advice and guidance. The key responsibility lies with the higher education institution to ensure they are communicating with students."

He said universities were self-regulatory and the Government should not be intervening "in every single issue". A motion passed at the National Union of Students annual conference in Blackpool last week said that plagiarism was increasingly becoming one of the main reasons that international students faced disciplinary action at university.

The motion claimed that universities "often forget their duty" to educate international students on all areas of UK academic life, including on what plagiarism means in a UK setting.

Wes Streeting, vice-president of the NUS for education, said: "We think institutions ought to think about publishing plagiarism rules and guidance in different languages because the issue is so hard to define."

Jude Carroll, an Oxford Brookes University expert on teaching international students, said institutions "very seldom" had enough support in place for international students and the academics who teach them.

She said: "The UK has admitted large numbers of international students as if doing that doesn't raise any issues - and that is unhelpful."

Overseas students represent a disproportionately high proportion of plagiarism cases at most universities, she said, and this is thought to be for linguistic and cultural reasons.

She said: "The Government needs to recognise that the huge fees that international students pay are not pure profit - they are also for investment in support services for international students and for the academics who teach them."

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