Members attending discussion group:

The following topics were discussed:

1. The Role of IELTS

It was felt by the majority of the group that IELTS, although far from perfect, was a necessary evil. It did offer an independent, objective test that can be applied universally when attempting to assess students.

However it was agreed that students can learn to do well at this exam and that many Universities wanted to apply their own entry tests as well. It was felt that the skills of reflection and analysis that we try to teach on our foundation courses were not taught or tested in the IELTS test.

Discussion continued to a comparison of IELTS entry requirements. These ranged from 5 with a good school report, to 6 with a minimum requirement of marks in reading and writing.

It was pointed out that 20 years ago, the minimum IELTS entry requirement was 7.

Many universities test students at the end of the Foundation course. A realistic improvement was thought to he a half to one IELTS point. It was agreed that a very high proportion of students passing the foundation course go on to take up a university place (85—93%). It was agreed that although some students can gain direct entry into a University with a high IELTS result, the foundation courses offered gave a far better preparation for University study, as they teach the skills which IELTS does not test.

2. Plagiarism

It was thought that many students understood what plagiarism was, but there was a cultural difference in the acceptability of its use. Chinese students are taught to memorise the words of experts and they do not want to change these ‘Great Words’

They often feel that they are in a no-win situation as if they plagiarise they are marked down and if they use their own words it is so bad that they are still marked down. Many students still feel that they stand a better chance of getting a high mark if they plagiarise than if they don’t.

Many Chinese students cannot show their understanding of the subject matter by summarising and paraphrasing because they do not understand it.

Several solutions were suggested: -

The habit of drafting and re-drafting can filter out plagiarism. Newspaper articles including obvious plagiarism can be studied for better understanding.

A timed essay can be set on the same topic as the student’s assignment. This essay is kept for reference should plagiarism be suspected in the assessed assignment.

Articles form the Internet can be downloaded and shown to be the source of the student’s writing.

3. Tracking

Interest in tracking foundation students through their academic studies following a foundation course was heightened by the presentation from Martin Millar of Oxford Brookes University.

It was agreed that some way by which foundation exit results could be compared with final degree results would be interesting. Although none of the group has an efficient, formal tracking system in place, many had made attempts to keep track of students. For several lecturers, the problem is made easier because almost all of the foundation students go on to a further course on the same campus. Therefore tracking can be done on a casual basis, face to face. Others have tried an E-mailing system, but have had little response from the students.

The question of disclosure of information was raised as a potential barrier to tracking.

Other lecturers have been met with inefficient and obstructive responses from higher education establishments.

4. Acculturisation

Many of the discussion group were concerned with how we prepare the foundation students for their life at a British University.

Some felt that time should be set aside at the beginning of the course to settle the students in. Others felt that the year spent on the foundation course was their acculturation.

Culture shock and learning shock were recognised as serious issues for foundation students and methods to reduce them were discussed. Inter-cultural study was encouraged with students giving presentations on ‘How to make Chinese tea’ or ‘How to wear a Kimono’.

Students were encouraged to set up, then break down cultural stereotypes.

One university had a Chinese Welfare Officer who helped the students no end.

It was felt that the high proportion of mono-cultural students at our universities caused specific problems.

‘Pecking order’ within the classroom, where one student was expected to report back for the group.

Concerns about party membership and the proper way one should conduct oneself.

The problem of a student being punished for making friends outside their cultural group has caused concern. This has lead, in one example, to a student requesting a transfer to another university.

5. Weak Students.

Although it was agreed that there has been a steady improvement in the standard of applicants, there are still weak students, particularly Chinese ones slipping through the net.

In some low level groups we feel as if we are force-feeding information which they do not understand and are unable to use. They are bound to fail the course and it was felt immoral to have taken their course fees. Some cheating does still go on, although it was felt that agents had become more selective and professional.

Some weak students who have failed a course beg and cry to re-take it as they cannot go back home as a ‘failure’. But it was felt that accepting these students would have a negative effect on the class and the reputation of the course.

Other reasons that were sited as causing difficulties were lack of maturity and ‘worldliness’ lack of motivation and learning difficulties other than in the English language.

Beth Coles, University of Hertfordshire