International students ‘over-confident’, study suggests

Academics think overseas students are unsuccessful at half of important activities, according to research

February 3, 2017
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Skill set: international students were ‘overwhelmingly confident’ in their abilities

International students rate themselves as significantly better at completing study tasks and activities than academics judge them to be, according to a study at a US university.

A survey of 191 international undergraduate students and 226 faculty at the University of Delaware found that the majority of academics thought that overseas students were unsuccessful at completing half of 22 tasks, such as leading discussions, taking essay exams, writing about their opinions and giving group presentations.

However, the international students were “overwhelmingly confident” in their abilities, with the majority marking themselves as successful for each of the tasks, despite qualitative surveys showing that the students are facing significant challenges.

Students were particularly confident in their ability to understand lectures, write research papers, take multiple-choice tests, use sources by paraphrasing and avoid plagiarism.

There was also some discrepancy when it came to rating the importance of the 22 tasks, with academics putting a higher premium on class participation and overseas students favouring exams.

For example, 94 per cent of the academics surveyed said that asking questions was important, compared with 82 per cent of the students, while just 78 per cent of students said participating in class discussions was important, compared with 88 per cent of scholars.

Meanwhile, 77 per cent of students thought taking essay exams was important, compared with 58 per cent of academics, and 87 per cent of students rated writing research papers as essential, compared with 62 per cent of staff.

Nigel Caplan, assistant professor at the University of Delaware English Language Institute and co-author of the study, said the research was an open survey, so it is not known whether the academics who responded were referring to the same students who participated.

However, he said that “the differences are big enough to make us think there is an issue with expectations”.

“University faculty maybe make assumptions about what good participation is or what appropriate student behaviours are or how an assignment should be completed. And an international student who has come from an entirely different educational system just isn’t aware of those expectations,” he said.

He added that the mismatch between the importance of tasks for both groups was likely to be a result of cultural factors; 70 per cent of international undergraduate students at the institution come from China.

“In the Chinese system and in many educational systems, students do not speak in class – it’s just not a classroom practice that is expected either in high school or at university level,” he said, adding that critical thinking and problem-solving may also be new tasks for some of the students.

“It’s not that students are incapable of it; they’re smart students. They’re just not used to approaching academic material in that way,” he added.

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Reader's comments (1)

The researchers may have to reach deeper into the cultural background of the students. American students from the primary level and within the homes are encouraged to be vocal and be assertive. In the societies of the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, (strong Euro-colonial ties), such behaviour may deemed as rude. This is carried into the early adult life and influences the approach to academics. In most societies this is a life long approach to perceived superiors.

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