Foreigners flock to academic-literacy lessons

February 18, 2010

A new model for teaching academic literacy to foreign students has resulted in a fivefold increase in attendance at the sessions offered by Northumbria University.

A team at Newcastle Business School, which has about 1,000 international students, redesigned the academic support sessions that overseas students take, to make them directly relevant to what they were doing in lectures.

The system aims to integrate the sessions into students' wider studies, and makes academic-literacy tutors members of subject staff.

It was first trialled in the school in 2007-08, and according to Diane Sloan, principal lecturer in strategic management and international business, the programme's director, it proved to be an immediate success.

Although the sessions were initially targeted at non-European Union students, she said, "we're now getting European and UK students knocking on our door".

International student fee income is likely to become even more crucial as universities grapple with public funding cuts.

Other institutions have already shown an interest in adopting Northumbria's system to help keep their own overseas students engaged.

The approach is currently being trialled by Heriot-Watt University, supported by a grant from the Higher Education Academy, and the University of Gloucestershire Business School is also planning to pilot the programme, Dr Sloan said.

One potential drawback of the model is that the type of subject-specific knowledge required of academic-literacy tutors takes time to build up.

Dr Sloan said: "We discussed this quite a lot - the question was, in the current economic climate, could we present a model that involved putting in more work rather than less?"

However, she added, the approach "pays off in the long run, making it easier to develop teaching material and link it to the subject".

Ian Shell, associate dean of learning and teaching at Newcastle Business School, added that the approach was "eminently transferable" to other areas, such as teaching IT skills and numeracy.

John Saunders

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