A multiple case study of the relationship between the indicators of students' English language competence on entry and students' academic progress at an international postgraduate university


Gaynor Lloyd-Jones

Charles Neame

Simon Medaney

Date Published:

12th April 2010

There is concern in the UK about declining degree standards due to the impact of internationalisation initiatives upon the expanded taught Masters postgraduate sector. Despite interest in the policy and managerial aspects of internationalisation of higher education, few studies have researched selection procedures that might illuminate current practices.

A case study approach was employed to study student selection in various Masters programmes in a postgraduate UK higher education institution specialising in engineering and management. The research revealed various selection processes in operation, some dependent upon English test scores, others reliant upon expert linguist assessments. There were differences between Schools in entry requirements for NNES students and in selection practices. Whatever the process or requirements, there was substantial support for complex, holistic rationales underlying Course Directors’ selection decisions. Course Directors took into consideration academic qualifications and interests, motivation, readiness to adapt to UK HE culture, educational background and work experience.

Course Directors were most concerned about students’ writing abilities which were difficult to assess reliably on entry and sometimes this resulted in failure to reach the required standard for the thesis.

This impacted upon the workloads of thesis supervisors and cast doubts upon the reliability of entry assessments to predict academic writing abilities in this context.

The academic progress of students with borderline English language skills was followed during the year using several measures. Over half of the group was instructed to revise and resubmit their theses. In general, these students performed in line with their initial borderline status until the end of the year. The initial identification of students as borderline appeared sound whichever method was used to assess their language proficiency.

The unusual aspects of the institutional context and the nature of the enquiry discourage generalisation but offer opportunities for further comparative case study research in contrasting settings.