Staging a Comeback: International Students in New Zealand

December 2, 2008

This second-to-last country profile on international students explores New Zealand. I describe the sharp decline in international students that New Zealand saw and explore the remedies they are applying to improve the situation.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, international students chose New Zealand in increasing numbers. After a peak of 121,190 students in 2003, the total number fell 25% to 91,301. The closure of two major schools and a reputation of poor service was apparently to blame.

New Zealand’s International Education Appeal Authority reports that the majority of complaints that it receives are about private training establishments. The most common issues raised relate to fair financial practices and full and timely disclosure of information.

A Ministry of Education report shows that an increase in the number of complaints corresponds to the decline in students. While not proving anything, this is a fairly strong indication that worsening service was being reported in students’ home countries—resulting in decreased interest.

As a result, schools (private training enterprises especially) have been receiving increased scrutiny. One private school principal reports that private schools now understand the rules more clearly and suggests the government shift its attention now to public schools.

Stronger marketing practices coincide with this government effort and initial results seem to be good. A group of administrators and researchers are meeting to discuss how best to market the country and promote more integration of international students. First-time visas—a fairly reliable indicator of growth—have increased significantly. Some schools are reporting a shift away from English language study towards content area study in English, and reporting success. There could be some good years ahead for New Zealand. Time will tell, and I’ll report it here.
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International Education in Australia (more valuable than tourism)

November 25, 2008

This post continues the series on international students with an investigation into Australia. I lay out the current situation in terms of enrollment and dollars. Then, I report on the government’s attempts to crack down on unscrupulous schools. This is followed by the results of a study on the academic strength of international students at major research universities.

How many? How much?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, international students brought AUD 13.7 billion (USD 8.9 billion)—outstripping tourism by a full AUD $1.7 billion. This huge contribution comes mostly from higher education (63%), but vocational schools (18%) are experiencing huge growth. The fees paid by international students make up, on average, 15% of college budgets.

One reason that has been cited for this extraordinary growth is the Australian dollar. The AUD has fallen agains the USD, making study in Australia more affordable than study in the U.S. In addition, the Indian Rupee has fallen sharply against the USD, but has risen against the AUD, making Australia particularly attractive to Indian students.

Some Schools Taking Advantage of Students
The demand among international students for vocational education has skyrocketed, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of trade colleges. In addition to reputable schools helping educate students, there is a growing number of institutions who, according to The Age, engage in cash-for-certificate schemes. In October, the Australian government closed one such college and put another 40 on suspension. The sheer number of institutions, however, make enforcing existing rules difficult. The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, for example, admits the existence of “dodgy providers” and cites lack of staff and resources as a reason more are not sanctioned. Finally, at the end of October, the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, announced his intention to toughen rules on student agencies that are also exploiting students with visa promises and descriptions of Australia that are simply untrue.

Major Universities Defend Themselves
The abuse of the Australian system by some institutions and college dependence on their fees have made all international students an easy target for criticism. To counter the claim that international students are recruited only as sources of money, a group of major research universities conducted a study on the academic performance of their international students.

The results show that international students at these universities are completing their coursework with the same degree of success as native Australians. These are powerful data, because they show that the most prestigous Australian universities are keeping their standards high and are recruiting based on academic merit, not financial clout.
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International Students: Canadian Trends

November 24, 2008

Canada does not attract as many international students as the U.S., U.K., or Australia, but they are working to change that. This post reports on the Canadian government’s efforts to recruit more students and explores recent problems with student visa fraud.

Imagine Canada
In September, the Canadian government announced that international atudents will be able to apply for work permits and remina in the country for up to 3 years after graduation. This would encourage graduates to use their education in Canada and would pave the way for their eventual naturalization.

In October, provincial education ministers met in Fredricton, New Brunswick, and announced a countrywide brand to recruit international students: “Imagine Education in Canada.” They plan to market Canada as an open, welcoming society and its colleges as world-class institutions of higher learning.

Visa Fraud
Unfortunately, Canada lacks the infrastructure to enforce visa laws. According to an internal report by the Canada Border Services Agency (obtained by the Vancouver Sun), the CBSA is only able to investigate 5% of alleged visa fraud. This enforcement gap means that people can obtain a student visa, arrive in the country legally, and then enter the workforce–circumventing the more rigorous immigrant visa process. I’m sure that many readers based in the U.S. can relate to my experience that some students come to the States and do the same thing. If this can be accomplished in a country with a well-funded enformcement apparatus, it must be that much easier in Canada.

Where is this Going?
If the Canadian government takes the initiative to market the colleges and universities of the whole country, this will undoubtedly help them to recruit more of the best and brightest students in the owlrd. Their 3-year work permit is like none I’ve heard of elsewhere and will also go a long way toward encouraging more students to choose Canadian colleges.

That being said, if Canada develops a reputation as an easy-visa country, this will attract a different applicant pool altogether. In that case, top-tier colleges run the risk of wasting valuable recruiting resources and doing serious damage to a carefully crafted national brand.
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International Students: Trends in the UK

November 19, 2008

After the U.S., Britain welcomes the largest number of international students each year. In this post, I lay out the financial contribution that these students make to the British economy, explore the effects of the recently announced changes to student visas, and end with predictions for the future.

Money, Money, Money
According to the Guardian, international students brought in £10 billion this year ($15 billion), a similar contribution to that made in the U.S. The far more important sum, however, is the estimated £3.5 billion ($5.3 billion) that goes directly to colleges and universities. While some U.S. universities charge higher fees to international students, many British institutions charge significantly more for internationals students to attend than UK nationals. The Patterns of Higher Education in Britain report found that “there has been a marked increase in the number of institutions receiving more than 15% of their total income from international student fees.” Fees from international students now account for more income than research grants for most institutions. At the top of the list, the London School of Economics receives a full 33.5% of its budget from international student fees.

The Visa Situation
The British Home Office announced new rules for student visas on October 30. These include a requirement that institutions must receive a license to invite international students. Students must have already been accepted by a licensed institution to be granted a visa, and they will have to prove that they have the financial means to support themselves while in the country. Finally, institutions will be required to report students who enroll but then do not show up for class.

While these rules have already been protested by some academics, they are remarkably similar to both the Australian and U.S. systems. It should be pointed out that the increased restrictions on student visas was one contributing factor to the downturn in U.S. international students. The British Council, however, has insisted that the new rules will not affect student enrollment.

What will this mean?
Pat Kilingsley of the British Council argues for a more proactive approach from British colleges and universities. This will be critical in order for institutions to maintain their current level of funding.

I believe that the new visa restrictions will have some dampening effect on attendence, but there will not be the accompanying perception of unfriendliness towards internationals that hurt the U.S. so badly following 9/11. Increased competition from the U.S. and Australia will mean that the U.K. will need to fight hard to keep its students, but increasing total number of available students from Asia and the Middle East will mean that many schools will see positive results.
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International Students Add $15.54 Billion to U.S. Economy

November 18, 2008

This fall there have been a number of reports in the news about internatinoal student enrollments at English-speaking colleges and universities. This week’s posts will focus on reported trends and conflicting predictions for the future of international students.

This is an important issue for several reasons. Graduate programs are able to recruit the best talent from a growing global pool of students. Many ESL programs at colleges and private langague schools like Kaplan and GEOS depend on international students.

A third reason for us to all pay attention to where international students choose to study is the size of their financial contribution to local and national economies. A recent study published by the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA) reports that last year international students and their families added $15.54 billion to the United States economy.

This is no small figure. With money like this at stake, we can expect institutions worldwide to increase their recruitment efforts. The rest of this week’s posts will be about how colleges in different countries are responding to all of this.
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Recent Research in Teaching Grammar

November 14, 2008

How important is grammatical knowledge? How can we balance grammatical accuracy with communicative fluency? Can grammar even be taught? These questions have been debated for as long as language has been taught. Two recent articles provide new insight on the role of grammar in language classrooms.

Grammar Can be Taught (without hurting fluency)
Research conducted by Mochizuki and Ortega (2008) revealed that teaching grammar to students results in more accurate speaking in communicative tasks. Furthermore, the students who studied grammar performed as well as the control group in measures of fluency. This groundbreaking study offers hard evidence that studying grammar will help students improve their English significantly.

Grammar Should be Taught
It is not enough to know that grammar can be taught. The question remains whether it should be taught. Shiotsu and Weir (2007) conducted a series of experiments to see how much of reading comprehension could be explained by vocabulary knowledge vs. grammatical knowledge. They found that grammatical knowledge is more important than vocabulary size, and they extrabpolated their findings to understanding English in general.

What This Means for You and Your Students
These two studies show that a well-rounded curriculum must have a grammar component. This is critical both for students ability to understand English and for their ability to use the language.

Mochizuki, N. & Ortega, L. (2008) Balancing communication and grammar in beginning-level foreign language classrooms: A study of guided planning and relativization. Language Teaching Research. 12 (1) 11-37.

Shiotsu, T. & Weir, C. (2007) The relative significance of syntactic knowledge and vocabulary breadth in the prediction of reading comprehension test performance. Language Testing. 24 (1) 99-128.

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Texas TESOL: more student interest in online software

November 11, 2008

Hello everyone. Well, it looks like live blogging from conferences is not likely in the cards for me. By the time evening rolls around and it’s time to comment on the day’s sessions, I’ve got so many other events going on that I don’t get back to my computer until late. For international TESOL, I’m working with some of my colleagues here to put together a daily brief of the best sessions. This would be a service mostly for teachers who can’t attend TESOL–kind of like reading the highlights of a sporting event you miss.

Texas TESOL’s attendance was down a little this year. They usually average 1000 attendees, but this year saw around 800 or so, according to conference organizers. Based on conversations with teachers at the conference, a big contributor to the lower attendance was school districts cutting back on funding for substitutes etc.

A big trend at TexTESOL that I noticed was the continued interest of students in accessing ESL software online. (See an earlier post on this)

The stories generally went like this: Teachers told me that they had bought software for their language labs a few years ago. Everyone is happy with the content and thinks that it is making a difference in the students’ learning. Lately, though, students have been asking about using the software at home.

Since the schools sank significant funds into the network version of the software, many of them are hesitant to make the jump into online versions. It seems, though, that ESL students are beginning to expect that software should be accessible from any computer.

Some of the big publishers (Pearson Longman included) have been moving in this direction and are offering significant options for online software. Others appear to believe that students will not want to pay the extra cost of online subscriptions and are only developing CD-ROM based software. I think it will be very clear sooner rather than later who is right on this point.
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