Provision of teaching aimed at international student recruitment
Academic internationalisation has opened national educational sectors to global competition, simultaneously offering new opportunities and markets to HE institutions able and willing to offer their degrees to foreign students (Altbach, 2007). The provision of international programmes is a multibillion dollar market (Heaney et al, 2011) assuring immense revenues for the leading HE leaders (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), but each year new nations join the race for valuable commercial (fee-paying) students. For global leaders higher education is now an “export” (ABS, 2011; Knight, 2011). The strength of this academic offer draws students from all countries, for whom the prospect of studying abroad, gaining a better, more comprehensive or modern education justifies spending tens of thousands of dollars. Many will never go back to their home countries, pursuing further education, professional careers and starting families in foreign countries.
While the global HE leaders are nearly all English-speaking nations, a sizeable sector has emerged of degrees offered by institutions located in non-English countries. Such internationalised degrees serve not only to gain new students from abroad, but also enhance the offer aimed at local students, dissuading them from considering an education elsewhere. Educational competitors must therefore carefully consider the case for developing an English-lingual offer, as it must appeal not only to locals (who would otherwise emigrate to study elsewhere) but also to draw in international commercial students willing to pay a sizeable tuition and carry the burden of living abroad in order to gain the degree and its knowledge.
Internationalised programmes can take a variety of formats, from local degrees (backed by degree-awarding powers, DAPs), articulation, through validated or franchised (known in the UK as “collaborative provision”) models, to double- or triple-degrees operated with partner institutions (and students spending time at each location). All types require specific solutions in their administration, often going beyond the existing institutional structure, development of bi-lingual documentation and systems and the implementation of external (often international) know-how. However, it is the delivery of academic content that poses the greatest challenges, as students hold certain expectations related to the quality of offered degrees, and those perceptions reach beyond local standards and practices. For recruitment to be successful and generate a notable amount of local and a sizeable contingent of fee-paying international students, the creators and managers of internationalised English-lingual programmes operated in non-English states, must overcome a series of obstacles.
The primary challenge focuses on the provision of instruction solely in English, for which international students have decided on the specific institution. Although the common understanding is that it is possible to convert (translate) local-lingual learning materials into English (often done via Google Translate, for horrific end results), the differences in language structure, grammar, culture, even terminology make this an impossibility. Similarly, with the use of professional translators, who focus on precise word-for-word conversion or the use of English-speakers (visiting EFL instructors), for whom the language is a natural form of communication but who often lack the necessary terminology and methodological understanding of the subject. In most cases the conversion must therefore be done by the teacher, adding sizeable workloads that become important start-up inhibitors boosting required initial investments. Such challenges, when backed by the requirement for the lecturer to be an effective instructor and communicator in English (in and out of the classroom) place a sizeable burden on academic staff, many of whom, even if capable, will shy away from the challenge, forcing the programme managers to seek substitutes: institution staff teaching elsewhere but competent in English-lingual provision of the given course (and able to retrain in the required discipline) or external academics able to deliver the course at the appropriate level.
When developing programmes aimed at international students, it is vital to move away from localised perspectives (local examples, case studies) – staff must make the effort of modifying their materials by adding an international perspective or by contextualising local examples to assure that all students benefit, regardless of their origin. Simultaneously, the provision of international examples and case studies assures that local students are exposed to new material and thus gain additional value added from studying at a home institution instead of going abroad. One of the most challenging social science disciplines to internationalise is law, with each nation possessing its own systems and codes, forcing programme managers to develop integrative courses that outline local standards (and follow governmental requirements where required) while offering additional information on other legal systems.
Similarly, lecturers must possess up-to-date knowledge – what may have been acceptable to local students will quickly be exposed as inferior instruction. A good example is in the provision of accounting education, where local standards and techniques may differ from the international benchmark, yet when educating international students and those intent on gaining world-class competencies, the knowledge and skills passed must be at a level applicable around the world.
A vital personal characteristic of lecturers on international programmes is one of cultural sensitivity (intercultural communication, see: Muhammad, 2005) – recruitment of students from diverse backgrounds assures a complex mix of nationalities, experiences, languages, cultures and religions. Good instruction must strike a balance between assuring international knowledge, presenting local examples and welcoming student perspectives while assuring that no one feels rejected or even insulted by what is said and done in class. With word-of-mouth advertising (see: Palmer et al, 2011) being a key factor in successful local and international recruitment, satisfaction of students already in the institution becomes a key determinant of success. A good barometer of lecturer ICC competency is the presence of explanations in the local language – a natural tendency by instructors to enhance student understanding by adding explanations in their native tongue (which may, in fact, may make life easier for both sides when their level of English is inadequate). A common comment to programme managers from international students takes the form of: “can he/she also explain in Chinese, Swahili, Dutch and German for such activity to be fair to all students?”
Programme internationalisation calls for changes in student assessment that, in its localised form, is often a product of national academic methodologies or customs, traditions, oversight body requirements, lecturer habits. Very often existing systems do not follow international best practice, are biased towards easing the life of the lecturer and are based on “memorise & repeat” methods. Some of the most popular behaviours include subjective grading, based on the instructor’s opinion about student performance (e.g. answering questions in seminars or undertaking oral exams) that are difficult to control/monitor, unwillingness to formalise and keep to the assessment system that should be presented in first classes, expectations of verbatim repetition of lecture materials, denial of student right to present own thoughts, interpretations, opinions. In contrast with Western academic systems, the level of instructor feedback is also minimal: besides grades, students can rarely expect detailed feedback on their performance (or non-performance) nor have opportunities for consultations aimed at improving their work in the future and thus enhancing their learning experience.
Resulting from the abovementioned issues, lecturers on programmes intended for recruitment of international students must offer enhanced consultation opportunities – even if all materials are well-developed, international students may require above-average support to facilitate their learning. In institutions where consultation time is part of the formal workload, such organisational solutions will have to be budgeted for (however they may be seen, or even accounted for, as part of the necessary Customer Relationship Management efforts that enhance positive word-of-mouth advertising). In those systems where teacher-student consultations are outside the formal/contracted workloads, efforts must be made to assure enhanced cooperation from academic staff in assuring that international students have access to required support.
As with the case of administrative and support systems for English-lingual programmes (see: Duszynski, 2012b), the delivery of academic programmes also calls for transparency of systems, rules, processes. Programme managers face various challenges, including:
– Correct translation of key terminology, as its local-lingual form usually represents the national academic culture and bureaucracy (e.g. a faculty is often translated into English as “department”, degrees become “specialities” or “courses”) – a “corporate dictionary” becomes useful, formalising the use of key terms in all institutional materials, both internal and external;
– Development of detailed information packages about degrees, subjects, syllabi, all formatted in standard international terminology – a good case is the imprecise (direct) translation of titles, pathways/specialisations or subject names that more often serve to confuse than inform potential international candidates;
– Development of student documentation that crosses the language barrier, which on one hand assures that the local requirements are met (often national Ministries have specific and detailed requirements on student data, its formats, etc.) and on the other allows the institution to deal effectively with international students and the English-lingual reality of everyday operations – the use of IT helps, as electronic communication allows for seamless conversion of files and presenting them in accordance with the current needs;
– Development of new academic oversight systems (faculty boards, boards of studies, methodological committees, etc.), approval and modification (e.g. in development of new pathways/specialisations, approval of new elective courses) that often have to become bilingual in operations and documentation – if the programmes are part of larger units (institutes or faculties), then their requirements must be adapted to dominant/higher-level organisational systems (e.g. to approve an English-lingual course in a committee not fluent in the language, a translation must be made for all members to have full information);
– Development of communication systems with teachers, staff and students (incl. timetabling, programme forums, review and feedback mechanisms) – here as well IT is extremely helpful, as it eases the translation, presentation and accessibility to data for all sides (e.g. timetabling can be developed for the entire institution by the local-lingual administrators and presented, after automatic conversion by the server, to the English-lingual staff and students; similarly, grading inserted in any language and format can be converted and stored in required form).
The development of English-lingual academic provision aimed at recruiting sizeable numbers off international students and English-capable locals, brings with it three important issues.
First is the selection of appropriate academics, defined earlier as highly competent communicators in English, who must also possess the necessary methodological and professional skills, backed by a dedication (or at least good will) towards providing international students with an effective learning environment. In many cases, these people cannot be found within institutions developing or already running their English-lingual degrees, and thus must be sourced from outside, either from neighbouring institutions, from the wider academic community (different cities in same country) or international staff can be recruited for full-time, part-time or per-course contracts. In the last case, certain challenges must be anticipated, not the least in the area of effective timetabling – assuring that visiting international professors and their students have enough time for knowledge transfer and assessment (often in the case of one- or two-month intense sessions). Internationals bring additional challenges in the forms of:
– Divergent expectations of instruction and class conduct, from provision of dry lectures as if for immense auditoriums to nearly informal seminar-styled sessions with continuous student activity and the professor offering only minimal guidance;
– Different levels of engagement with the students and institution as a whole, from constant presence and a desire for deep involvement in all areas of the programme to an arms-length attendance of classes only with no contact outside of the schedule;
– Different approaches to assessment of student work that may be in conflict with the strategic aims of the programme – some may demand too much from students going far beyond workload allocations for the given course (e.g. when considered through the perspective of ECTS counts), while others maintain a laissez faire attitude, giving the students “an easy ride”;
– Differentiated levels of learning materials, with some visiting professors expecting sizeable numbers of materials to be present and thus bring none themselves or conversely, flooding the students and programme management staff with immense quantities of articles, textbooks, cases (together with requests for purchasing of expensive materials from the world’s leading academic publishers).
Yet, when the lecturers possess the necessary knowledge and skills as those outlined in the first half of this article, the benefits from their presence on the programme outweigh any costs or problems. As such, the presence of international teaching staff is always good for degree marketing, as it serves to convince local and foreign candidates about the international nature of their chosen degree and enhances the perception of value added.
The second issue results from the insufficient supply of appropriately qualified instructors – wages that are paid (or requested) for classes conducted in English, are much higher than those for teaching on local-language courses. Where local staff can be found, wages per hour can reach 200-500% of the standard rate (even when categorised in accordance with institutional rank), while the remuneration of international academics can easily pass 1000%. Such costs can upset most programme budgets, forcing financial planners to increase degree tuition levels (see pt.3 below).
This differentiation of wages can lead to notable organisational stresses, as teachers not involved in English-lingual provision may grow jealous and distance themselves from “wealthier” colleagues, contest the provision of such an “expensive” academic offer or even attempt to sabotage the project – in extreme cases unhappy lecturers may poison the organisational environment and negatively affect client perceptions by venting their frustrations to students. Problems may also emerge from the local staff employed on international programmes whom, despite earning more than their local-lingual counterparts, may still earn disproportionately less than visiting international professors, leading them to look for formal or informal ways at reducing external competition by: insisting on use of full-time staff whose contractual obligations should be serviced first, attacking the quality of instruction or length of engagement offered by internationals, voicing insincere concern for the impact of international’ wages on the project budget.
Third, in cases of budgets inflated by high teaching costs, tuition levels must be raised to offset such expenses. Even local students attending such a degree pay tuition that is 2-3 times higher than for those studying in the local language, while international students may be forced to pay even more (if legislation allows for such pricing strategies). A good example of such pricing is the UK, with local and EU students often paying 1/3 or 1/4 of the tuition charged to non-EU students. The ultimate level of tuition must strike a balance between:
– Competitive position of the programme, vis-a-vis its national and international equivalents (indicators include: institutional prestige, value of degree, successes of graduates, wages after graduation);
– Anticipated operational costs (staff wages, costs of learning materials, etc.);
– Desire for profit (not only its size but also moment of appearance within the life cycle of the programme);
– Price tolerance of local students (price must be lower than the total costs of equivalent education in a different country);
– Price tolerance of international students;
– Considering the costs and timeframe of travel to and from the country (visa costs, flights, even the risk of visa application rejection, see: Duszynski, 2012a).
It must also take under consideration the costs of living, as international students face much more complex and enhanced expenditure models than local students able to live at home or have certain costs covered by family or even bank loans (commercial or provided by the state).
To assure the effective provision of English-lingual degrees, organisational units operating them are forced to implement different systems and processes, in teaching as well as administration and student support (see: Duszynski 2012b). Over time, the combination of organisational separation (sometime even autonomy), different operations and systems, the presence of international students and staff, an international academic culture, all backed by notable revenues and freedom to select external staff, turn these international degree units into centres of informal organisational power. When their programmes are successful (sizeable recruitment, good opinion about level and quality, satisfied customers), the operators are rarely subject to encroachment from the organisational structure or other centres of formal/informal power. However, very often the lessons of international success will be limited to those operating units, as their academic reality is markedly different from the rest of the institution and the two (or more) cultures may have little in common nor be interested in learning from each other.
The creation of English-lingual degrees cannot be a project based on sheer ambition or following of competitors, as the academic requirements can challenge any institution and upset its budget. Failure to properly organise, deliver at required levels or appropriately support the endeavour and its clients can have a sizeable negative impact on the prestige of the entire institution. As such, the degree must be well planned, implemented correctly and backed by necessary organisational solutions and resources. Then, once the first students (local and international) undertake the programme, their satisfaction will be converted into positive word-of-mouth advertising that will support future marketing efforts and assure steady and sizeable inflows of future clients.