UK told to raise language bar for foreign students

December 22, 2006

International students too often do not have the English language skills to cope with the challenges of studying in the UK, the Society for Research into Higher Education conference heard last week.

Delivering a paper at the Brighton meeting, Jan Bamford of London Metropolitan University's Business School reported a "mismatch" between the level of English language proficiency asked for by the admissions tutors recruiting overseas students and the expectations of teaching academics.

She argued that the minimum score in the International English Language Testing System that universities required for admission was too low to ensure students could keep pace with the expectations of academics, particularly on postgraduate courses.

Ms Bamford told the conference that the low language requirements were the result of international students' status as a "lucrative source of income" for institutions in the UK.

In 2004-05, almost a third of tuition income came from the fees paid by the 10 per cent of the student population who came to Britain from countries outside the European Union.

The paper, International Students and their Experiences of UK Education , concludes that international students struggle to adapt, linguistically and culturally, to British methods of academic study - without additional support.

"The minimum language requirement is just that," Ms Bamford argued.

She advocated the need to provide a greater level of support to enable overseas students to deal with the challenges of daily teaching as well as to help them to undertake dissertations and larger projects in English.

Ms Bamford added that the recruitment of international students was "of huge benefit" to the UK, but only "if done in the right way by universities".


  • Income from overseas students rose from £1.09 billion to £1.4 billion between 2002-03 and 2004-05 - a 28 per cent rise, according to recent estimates
  • Overseas students make up 10 per cent of all UK first-degree students and 40 per cent of all taught and research postgraduates
  • There were 6,055 foreign students in the UK in 2004-05 compared with 245,080 two years before, says the British Council
  • The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service last year reported a 22.5 per cent drop in the number of Chinese students enrolling on UK courses and a British Council report showed a 4 per cent drop in the UK's share of the overseas student market
  • A Higher Education Policy Institute report published in November warned that 28 per cent of overseas students feel that they get poor value for money on UK courses.

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