Warning: 'take care or risk reputation abroad'

June 10, 2010

Universities need to be more careful in their selection of international postgraduates and respond better to their needs if they want to recruit more of them, a conference has heard.

Pam Denicolo, vice-chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education and director of the Graduate School for the Social Sciences at the University of Reading, told a UKCGE conference last week that most international postgraduates were recruited through personal recommendation, so it was crucial for universities to develop a good reputation.

She warned that institutions should make sure students had the necessary personality traits and language ability to be successful, claiming that it was "immoral to take on a student you haven't selected in a critical way".

She added: "It is stressful for them to fail and bad for the supervisor to have to fail someone. And they are unlikely to go back to their country and say: 'I wasn't good enough.' They are more likely to say: 'That place was dreadful.'"

Professor Denicolo said that language testing was imperative before international students were offered places, but warned that standard English tests were not always a good indicator of students' ability to speak and think in English.

One delegate made the warmly received suggestion that universities should ask international applicants to complete subject-specific tests at accredited locations in their own countries, such as British Council offices.

Professor Denicolo also emphasised that the non-academic aspects of student life were just as important in building an institution's reputation. She warned that university services such as libraries, canteens and registries were not always sensitive or responsive to the needs and expectations of international students.

Some overseas students were frustrated by a lack of flexibility among finance departments, which were often unwilling to accommodate differing timetables and protocols for funding awards from foreign funders, and responded to overdue payments with threatening letters or instant withdrawal of facilities.

"It all seems so unnecessary," one delegate said.


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