Teaching smarter to improve the English communication proficiency of international engineering students - collaborations between content and language specialists at The University of Western Australia
The current controversy surrounding recently released immigration statistics on international student graduates of Australian universities and the ongoing debate on literacy standards in our schools form the context for this paper. A variety of explanations have been offered on how it can be that a large portion of international students graduating from Australian universities are being granted permanent residency in Australia with lower International English Language Testing System scores than those required for university entry and professional employment. An equally wide variety of explanations has been offered on the purported slippage of English literacy standards in schools. While the focus of this paper is on academic English literacy skills, and while it certainly turns a spotlight on international students, it is not, however, the intention in this paper to enter fully into either the first controversy or the second debate. The purpose of this paper is rather to examine disparities that seem to exist between international and Australian student performance in the professional development component of their engineering programs at the University of Western Australia (UWA). These disparities are evident in data of students enrolled in Introduction to Professional Engineering (IPE), the foundation unit for the professional development of engineering students at UWA. In contrast to the technical component of the degree, this unit depends heavily on English communication skills. Collaboration between content and language experts in 2006 and 2007 seems to hold promise of achieving more equitable outcomes for international students. This collaboration has reversed the widening gap in the pass rates of international and Australian students in the unit. It is hoped that this will, in turn, lead to improved international student retention rates in the degree.