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University challenge

Rafaela Peteanu surveys the challenged facing UK university language centres teaching Arabic speakers

A significant number of Middle Eastern students arrive in the UK every year aiming to study at a university, and many of them require a foundation course. In an attempt to discover what challenges they face, the Gazette contacted a number of university language centres.

To place our findings in context, we wanted to learn a bit about the language centres we were dealing with. How many Arabic speaking students did they normally enrol? What level were they aiming to study at? What was their English level (expressed as an Ielts score) before and after taking a course in a language centre?

Arabic speakers made up 10 to 20 per cent of enrolments in most of the language centres we contacted. A few had more, including Brunel, LSI Portsmouth, Warwick and Leicester. De Montfort University topped the chart: around 90 per cent of their enrolments are Arabs, at least at this time of year, while normally they have around 20 per cent.

The vast majority of these students are looking to take postgraduate courses. However their English is not always up to the level required, normally 6.5 to 7 at Ielts, and they need to study at the university language centre first.

Of the language centres we surveyed, only the London School of Economics (LSE) and Lancaster accept students with a minimum Ielts score of 6. Edinburgh, Brighton and Leicester accept students with Ielts scores under 5. The majority of our respondents, including Southampton and Birmingham, report students enrolling with Ielts scores of 5–6.

Language centres reported clear cultural problems with

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IH survey shows way forward for business English worldwide

Rafaela Peteanu talked to International House affiliates and saw opportunities and threats

The Gazette surveyed worldwide affiliates of the International House (IH) organisation to gain a better understanding of changes in business English and English for specific purposes (ESP) teaching in the past year and to identify any emerging trends in these fields.

We first wanted to know how important business English was to different IH schools. Hamburg, Baden (in Switzerland, near Zurich) and Dubai emerged as leaders in terms of the percentage of total enrolments that were for business English, with 90, 70 and 50 per cent respectively. This is perhaps unsurprising, given their locations – all in countries with a relatively stable economic climate (Germany, Switzerland and the UAE). At the other end, IH Rome only had 2 per cent of its enrolments for business English. San Sebastian (Spain) and Moscow were not much higher, at 5 per cent each.

When it came to trends in enrolments and the demand for business English exams, IH locations

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Return of the secret shopper

The Gazette’s intrepid investigator probes the customer service skills of universities

Applying for a postgraduate course can be a daunting task even for recent graduates, let alone people who have not been in the university system for a while. University websites are often difficult to navigate, and prospective students may find themselves in the position of having to go through various sections and sub-sections in order to find the answers they are looking for. Even for a generation of digital natives the answers can be difficult to dig out.

The Gazette looked into how easy it is for a digital native whose mother tongue is not English to obtain information about distance learning English language masters in the UK, US and Australia. We asked our secret shopper, herself a European postgrad, to find out. Using our latest masters listing (EL Gazette June 2013) she looked at the websites of fifteen universities offering MAs in ELT-related fields, thirteen in the UK, one Australian, and one from the US.

We also asked her to look at three specific questions drawn from our latest good MAs guide (January 2013). Since it was clear that some students expect teaching practice to be a part of the programmes – though this is rare in British universities – the first question was, is teaching practice included? She was also asked to find out

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