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Diversity or Cash Cows?

This Love the Way we Bitch from this week’s issue of The Coast caught my eye, as it pertains to non-native English speaking (NNES) international students at my university:

I know your investments in the big oil are not turning much profit these days, but I take issue with where you’re turning for extra cash. You pull in international students and charge them gargantuan tuition fees, but your screening is weak. This is unfair to the students who are getting crushed by expectations, it is also unfair to their peers and professors. I truly enjoy going to a school with such diversity, but I can’t help but think it is for the wrong reasons. Why must you prey on people? —There’s got to be another way

I found this very interesting for several reasons. First, it’s (unfortunately) not at all uncommon to hear native English-speaking students and faculty complain about “international students who can’t speak English” in their classes, but very often, this criticism and frustration is aimed toward the students themselves. The writer of this “bitch” is more astute in their observation of the fact that much of the blame can be put on the institution for cash cow NNES international students who flounder linguistically once they begin their degree programs.

I think the author of this bitch hits the nail on the head when they mention students “getting crushed by expectations”. When an institution requires an IELTS 6.5 for admission, and offers almost nothing by way of ESL linguistic support for students once the arrive, it’s like the university is saying “Don’t worry, an IELTS 6.5 is all you need to be able to study successfully in English, you’ll be fine.”

But we all know that it’s simply not the case; the gulf is vast between what is tested on the IELTS and the real-world English proficiency needed for academic study, not to mention academic skills and academic-cultural practices necessary for success at a Canadian university. To open the floodgates to international students to milk them for tuition, and not provide support for them to bridge this linguistic gap is, “preying on people”.

“There’s got to be another way”, indeed–and its not rocket science. But providing linguistic (and other) support costs money, and eats away at the massive sums the international students’ tuition fees are adding to university coffers. Attitudes are cheaper to change, but it’s no easy task to make people in all levels of university bureaucracy realize that “internationalizing” the institution is not simply an activity limited to recruitment, but must include support programming (and a host of other measures) as well.

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