Expectations of and on international students in UK HE: Perspectives on English for Academic Purposes

On 16th September, I and my colleague gave a talk at BAAL/Routledge Workshop ‘Expectations of and on international students in UK HE’ at Manchester Metropolitan University. The workshop was a very fruitful event which brought together researchers, professionals of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and international students. Our talk entitled ‘Internationalisation in UK higher education: Experiences of international PhD students’ drew on our own experiences of academic writing and intercultural communication with reference to internationalisation agenda of higher education. During my PhD journey, it was the first academic event in which I gave a presentation which was not directly related to my PhD (learner language), though I made some reference to my research and other relevant research studies.

I focused on the dynamics of my identity as an academic writer and my experiences of being a teaching assistant of Study Skills course which encompasses critical reading, identifying appropriate literature, and academic writing. Study Skills course is delivered to MA students in order to improve their academic reading and writing skills, and it is useful to provide shortcuts to the conventions of academic writing in English. However, the generic content of academic writing may not enable students to understand how they can present their arguments and contribute to the debate in their own specific disciplines and sub-disciplines. For instance, the way the arguments constructed in TESOL can be markedly different from those of educational technology. Admittedly, it is hard to design a discipline-specific study skills course, but there is room for improvement. Special corpora that would include journal articles and academic books in MA students’ specific disciplines can be used to improve students’ knowledge of linguistic choices, evaluation of the previous literature and argumentation. Additionally, students can be trained to create their own personalised corpus by using the virtual corpus functionality within the Brigham Young University’s collection of corpora.

The second point I made was the academic writing support provided to students. Though we are lucky to receive academic writing support at institutional level, the way it is framed should be changed. In its current format, academic writing support/tutorial service at many universities in the UK is generally available for students whose first language is not English. This makes the assumption that students whose first language is English would not struggle with academic writing, and/or that students from a non-English L1 background would have problems that should be ‘remedied’. In fact, corpus research shows that novice writers may share the same struggles in academic writing, regardless of their first language. Therefore, academic writing support at universities should be given to all students, as the labels ‘home’/‘L1-English speaking’ students and ‘international’/‘L2-English speaking’ students may divide ‘us’. Though there are changes to this approach, the change is slow, and it is remarkable that research in this area has informed the practices little in this area so far. As one of the discussants in the workshop noted, researchers may need to find more effective ways of reaching out to stakeholders in this area. 

calvin-and-hobbes_2During the workshop, there were similar talks and discussions on academic support given to students in UK higher education. Until the workshop, it was inconceivable for me to hear ‘EAP’ referred to as ‘industry’ followed by the rationalisation that ‘it is the reality.’ Although we cannot deny the ideological and economical underpinnings of EAP through which major publishing companies make profits in the Anglophone context, seeing EAP as ‘industry’ would benefit neither students nor educators. Instead, EAP can be framed as collective endeavour of students, educators and researchers. At the risk of romanticising, students’ progress in EAP would be of priceless value to both students and educators.

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