Nearly 300,000 international students chose to pursue their higher education in Australia in 2017 (Australian Government 2017). That’s almost three times the seating capacity at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the sporting fans reading this! If Macquarie Learning & Teaching staff increase their awareness of the experience of international students, and know where to find support, as a community we can foster a positive learning environment for over 20% of our cohort.
Australia ranked third globally in attracting the most overseas students to their higher education institutions, only behind the US and the UK (UNESCO 2017). At Macquarie University, international students make up nearly 24% of the entire student community, representing 116 countries.
With this in mind we thought it relevant to raise awareness around some of the key experiences and challenges facing international students in tertiary education, and the resources available for teachers and students at Macquarie University for addressing these issues.
A national survey found that international students are satisfied with their experience on arrival to Australia, living conditions, learning, and support services (Australian Government 2016). However, international students were more likely than domestic students to have difficulties with comprehending their study material and were more likely to seek help from teaching staff (Melbourne University Centre for the Study of Higher Education 2014). These learning difficulties resulted in lower levels of satisfaction with the quality of teaching in comparison to domestic students, despite their belief that teaching staff made an effort to understand their learning difficulties.
Meanwhile, the first-year experience of both domestic and international students revealed a steady decline in classroom engagement and social engagement with peers and the university community (Melbourne University Centre for the Study of Higher Education 2014).
Surveys carried out by the Department of Education and Training revealed that as international students adjust to a new university culture, language barriers and learning difficulties may exacerbate disengagement with their learning (Hellsten, 2002). This is not to say that effective allocation of resources by host institutions and their support services cannot shorten this adjustment period.
We should note that the international student cohort is in itself a diverse group with differing experiences and needs. As outlined above, the experiences and needs of these students are effected by what happens inside the classroom as well as outside of it. There are certain things teaching staff will have greater impact over (e.g. learning and teaching) than others (e.g. accommodation, social student groups). Ultimately, a complex blend of academic and non-academic issues are at play requiring our attention towards a more supportive learning environment for international students.
The Macquarie University Response
This resource overview provides a good start pointing but is by no means exhaustive and doesn’t include personal initiatives undertaken by dedicated staff university-wide to expand our resources.
Teaching resources for academic staff
- Teaching Induction Program (TIP) is a professional learning program for teaching which is developed and delivered by Faculty Learning and Teaching Teams and the Learning Innovation Hub. It is aimed at providing staff who are new to teaching at Macquarie with what they need to get started. The Teaching for Diversity and Inclusion module contains useful information, tips and activities!
- Faculty Learning and Teaching staff – contact your Faculty Associate Dean Learning and Teaching, or other members of Faculty L&T staff for further support.
Support and Services for Students
Please feel free to promote these resources to your students
- MAC101 – is a comprehensive resource directory providing information on essential services such as accommodation and welfare, social clubs and societies (e.g. English Speaking Club) and learning resources. New students are automatically enrolled into this unit in their iLearn homepage, under ‘Student Support: Skill Building and Help Resources’.
- StudyWise – is the University’s academic literacies iLearn space, with materials to help improve study skills. New students are automatically enrolled on their iLearn homepage under ‘Student Support: Skill Building and Help Resources’.
- Academic and Program Advisors provide guidance and answers to questions about unit content and how a student’s degree program relates to their overall educational and employability goals.
- Career and Employment Service International Students are some of the biggest users of the Careers Service located at MUSE and there is a great unit CareerWise full of useful resources on iLearn available to all students at all levels.
Workshops and courses
- English Language Skills – Macquarie University English Language Centre (ELC) offers a wide range of English language programs including General English, Academic English, Study Tours, TESOL Teacher Training, and professional English courses.
- Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) and Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) – Experienced students run weekly study sessions/workshops for peers, helping with learning and academic transition.
- Skill Development Workshops – All students are invited to attend these free workshops that explore specific topics in more depth (e.g. getting started with academic writing, avoiding common plagiarism errors). The Learning Skills Unit run these workshops regularly throughout Session, which don’t require registration and are open to everyone.
- This International Students Information Portal a one-stop shop with useful information for international students.
- This Academic Skills Development website provides informational and services that can help students develop their academic literacy and/or numeracy skills, including drop in services and individual consultations with a Learning Adviser.
We’ll run a second post next week on the importance of teaching with inclusion and some hot tips for inclusive teaching!
By John Truong and Lilia Mantai with thanks to Dr. Pamela Humphreys (MUIC), Dr. Beate Mueller (MUIC) and Lilia Draganov (FBE/DVC-A) for their generous input and comments.