As a growing number of international students who attempt to obtain a further education diploma or expand their horizons, has been increasing, it is often the case that they would face various challenges while studying abroad. The main barrier that they have to overcome is “academic learning that consists of strangeness, difference and integration (Teekens, 2006:17, cited in Hyland, 2008). According to Hyland et al (2008:29), to improve the quality of higher education not only the individual needs to endeavor, but also the departmental and institutional effort would be indispensable.
This essay will illustrate that the main factors of overseas students who study for least one year result in academic learning challenges, are adapting to a new educational system’s assessments and English speaking only environments, then will provide possible solutions, for example, giving sufficient guidance from enrolled universities, revolutionising language certified test in reducing these difficulties. The first main factor that directly causes learning challenges is that overseas students would probably face different methods of assessment.
Most postgraduate students wish their overseas journeys were the same as ‘back home’ (Pointon, 2009, cited in The Higher Education Academy, 2012). However,for those students who graduated in other educational systems, team projects, presentations would become the barriers they have to confront. Firstly team-based learning appears to be more strange and complicated to these students because it not only depends upon academic competence,but also has to be relevant to their abilities of communication and coordination.
Group work can be even more stressful because a silent student is effectively excluded, whether voluntarily or not. It is also something that many international students have not really encountered before (Sovic,2008). Subsequently, quite a number of overseas students seem to be unfamiliar with presentations as well. According to (Sovic,2008:153), except for necessity of group work sometimes, to express their opinions via presentations international students who may be new have to be confidently confronted with classmates who would hold other cultural perspectives.
These unacquainted assessment criterions would widely and considerably affect international students, especially at the beginning of their academic journey. For example, presentations would be often assigned in the first term, if the results seem to be quite low, they not only directly impact those students’ overall score, but also affect their emotions to some degree even might reduce their confidence and motivation with regards to continuing their studies abroad. The second major factor which would be around all overseas students,is the atmosphere of foreign language only.
Sovic(2008:150)has demonstrated that for those students who are non-native speakers, even if they have obtained fairly high IELTS(The International English Language Test System)test grades, language is still singled out as the biggest obstacle for them to study abroad. The main reason, which causes that they passed the tests but could not adapt to the new language environment quickly, is that IELTS seems to be irrelevant to the demands within the universities. To begin with, when overseas students arriving the destinations, the first difficulty they have to face is local accent.
Research (Sovic, 2008:151) reported that international students who are even native-speakers can still have significant problems with fast and heavy accents in lectures and tutorials. Another point which bothers almost overseas students especially at the beginning of study abroad is acquiring academic language, including discipline-specific vocabulary and academic expression. It is often overlooked, since students who obtained the required language scores always mistakenly believe that it is sufficient to complete their studies (Arkoudis, 2008).
These unexpected barriers would be troubled for all overseas students to varying degree. It is notable that international students must spend quite a large amount of time and energy on solving language issues. In other word, they have to cut down the time from learning main curriculums, which would considerably affect them to absorb curriculum knowledge and make them feeling more stress. One feasible solution to help overseas students to face academic challenges is that enrolled universities need to make more efforts before international students’ academic journeys.
Despite universities always remind students who have been confirmed acceptance to prepare relevant knowledge about their courses, there are few students who could prepare adequately. Zhai(2004:101)discovered that academic issue tend to be the most difficulty for international students, and there are around 60% students whom recommended that their college should provide more academic guidance. It is suggested that academic support should be provided to international students as soon as possible, since Pedersen (1991) had demonstrated that sufficient guidance should be initiated before they arrive.
According to the factors mentioned above, enrolled universities may send an amount of materials to international students via email or even material object, including introduction of new educational system, samples of presentation and team project, videos of lecture and tutorial. Moreover, for students of different disciplines, universities may provide more specific background knowledge or required reading list. Although these will increase universities’ operating costs, it would be effective to help international students overcome academic challenges.
Another solution which seems to be quite challenging is revolutionising language certification test. Lee (2009:23) claims that compared to other language certified tests, IELTS is most effective and reliable examination to assess students’ not only language skill but also academic ability. However, although international students obtain the qualified language scores, it does not mean that they can successfully finish academic learning (Schmitt, 2005; Murray and O’Loughlin, 2007; Arkoudis, 2008; Sovie, 2008), even the type of writing in IELTS seems to be “public non-academic genres” (Moore and Morton, 2005, cited in Hyland et al, 2008).
Feast (2002:83) reported that between language proficiency and academic performance at university there is a positive and significant, but weak relationship. Thus, in order to better serve high education, IELTS may be adjusted. Firstly, academic IELTS test could be divided into three categories that consist of Arts aspect, Science and Engineering, Social Science. Secondly, increasing more academic topics in section1 and section2 of listening test could replace a considerable number of life topics.
Thirdly, the type of task2 in writing could change to mini-academic essay. These adjustments could not only make the scores more valuable to be referred by universities, but also help and guide international students to accumulate more discipline-specific and academic knowledge which lead to reduce those academic difficulties after they arrive. In conclusion, as this essay has demonstrated, the main factors which lead to academic learning challenges are atmosphere of English speaking only and different educational assessment system.
Feasible solution to these challenges including revolutionising language certified test and providing adequate support from enrolled universities. It seems that revolutionizing language certified test is most significant solution to help and guide students at the source. In the future, increased awareness of academic challenges via researching and reporting as a whole could arouse relevant departments’ attention to take action on resolving these problems.