Inadequate English-language support at Middlesex University is damaging overseas students' ability to understand "theoretical and conceptual material" in class, quality chiefs have said.
The Quality Assurance Agency warning is a blow to Middlesex, Britain's biggest recruiter of overseas students, as it kicks off its ten-year plan to more than double student numbers, largely through overseas recruitment.
In a report published this week, the QAA says its audit team "advises Middlesex toI ensure support for overseas students meets their specialist needs".
The report says that, while the university's systems for supporting students are generally sound, "there was, however, some concern expressed by students about the level of specialist support for non-native speakers, especially overseas students entering taught postgraduate courses, and the effects of imperfect understanding of theoretical and conceptual material in seminar discussions".
The report says: "While recognising that English-language support is available, in light of the concerns raised by students, the team considered that the university should review the level and extent of transitional and English-language support for newly arrived overseas students, especially those entering graduate programmes, in order to ensure that their needs are met."
The continued growth in the recruitment of overseas students, who pay full tuition fees and are a vital income source, is central to the university's future plans.
Student numbers have rocketed from 16,000 in 1995 to 22,000 today, fuelled largely by growth in overseas recruitment. In 1995, the university recruited 3.7 per cent of its students from abroad; today more than 20 per cent come from overseas - 17.9 percent from outside Europe.
Continued growth is fundamental to the university's new corporate plan for 2003-04 to 2007-08. The QAA report says: "The university's 'new direction' sees it moving from being primarily a large domestic regional university, focused mainly on widening participation at undergraduate level, to beingI a global university with an internationally diverse staff and student body.
The new strategy envisages the university having more than doubled itsI numbers by 2013, with most students being from overseas."
A spokeswoman for Middlesex said: "The university is delighted at the outcome of the report, which expressed 'broad confidence' in both its quality assurance systems and its standards.
"The university itself identified, in discussions with the audit team, the need to further explore support provision for overseas students in light of its plans to expand. (It) will continue to develop support for all students within the context of a multicultural university."