International Students and the ‘English Problem’ in Australian Universities: A Discursive Perspective
The number of international students in Australia’s higher education sector has grown exponentially over the past three decades, from approximately 13,700 in 1983 to over 230,000 enrolments in 2013 (Australian Education International, 2013; Burke, 2002). This rapid explosion in the number of international students participating in higher educationhas also witnessed a corresponding growth in discourses on problems in relation to international students studying in Australian universities, both in the popular media and amongst academic researchers. Many of these discourses have been arguably negative, ranging from talk of international students as ‘backdoor migrants’ and ‘invaders’ through to references to them as ‘cash cows’ or ‘commodities’ (Burke, 2002, 2012; Robertson, 2011). One discourse that has dominated debates in Australian higher education, in particular, has been that of the so-called ‘English problem’, namely, ongoing claims over the past three decades that international students have inadequate English language skills for participating in academic studies, and graduate with insufficient English language skills for subsequent employment in Australia. It has been argued that this not only reflects, but has also led, to academic standards falling in Australian universities (Birrell, 2006; Bretag, 2007; Coley, 1999; Phillips 1987; Watty 2007). The claim that many international students face problems with their level of English language skills is one that has gained considerable traction in influencing recent governmental and institutional policies on entry standards and subsequent English language support for international students in Australian universities (Arkoudis, Baik, & Richardson, 2012; Bradley, Noonan, Nugent, & Scales, 2008; Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009). However, such moves have often been premised on a deficit view of international students, where they are cast as having inadequate language skills and that this deficiency needs to be overcome through various means of English language support (Benzie, 2010). It is commonly assumed that if international students are given sufficient English language support targeting the four skills in academic contexts, along with support in developing their academic literacy more broadly (Benzie, 2010; Harper, Prentice, & Wilson, 2011; Murray, 2012), the problem of falling academic standards in Australian universities will be addressed.
International Education and Cultural-linguistic Experiences of International Students in Australia
Applied Linguistics and Educational Linguistics
Discourse and Pragmatics