Ombudsman wants 'more preparation'

July 7, 2006

The student complaints ombudsman has raised concerns that universities are not "looking after" the overseas students on whom they depend so heavily for income, writes Phil Baty.

Ruth Deech, head of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, said she was "worried" by the question: "Are we looking after our foreign students?"

Speaking ahead of next week's annual conference of the UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs (UKcosa), Baroness Deech said: "We receive a lot of complaints from overseas students where very often we do not find that the university has done anything wrong, and yet I can see that the students really believe that they have had a terrible time.

"These students will go back to their home countries and put off others who might have been planning to study here.

"They can take failure particularly badly. It is a question of losing face - of going home without the degree they said they would get, sometimes when people had clubbed together to fund them. It is heartbreaking."

The most recent published figures from the OIA, covering a nine-month period to September 2005, showed that at least 12 per cent of all complaints received by the ombudsman were from overseas students, although many more were from students whose origins were unknown.

This compares with an overseas student population of about 10 per cent of all first-degree students and 40 per cent of all taught and research postgraduates, according to UKcosa.

Baroness Deech, speaking at an international conference on plagiarism in Gateshead last month, warned that students were coming to Britain "without sufficient language command". She suggested "more preparation before they come to study" and the raising of awareness of what the language demands of a UK degree were.

Baroness Deech added that there needed to be more effort to manage different cultural expectations.

"For Chinese students, for example, there is a suggestion that at home in China it is simply not the done thing to ask a question in class.

"They are shy and will prefer to see their professor out of class. But this gets them into difficulty, as academics often will not see them out of class if it might be seen as giving them an advantage."

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