Academology: International Students

Friday, 19 June, 2015

Many international students who study in postgraduate courses are struggling with their studies in the first month of semester, asserting it is largely a result of unexpected language difficulties. Several of these students come from Asian countries. Students such as Hannah Huang, who studies engineering, feel anxious about final academic results. “Although there are still eight weeks left, it is still possible for me to fail in the end!”

The majority of students owe the difficulty to their language level. “I got 6.5 on listening and speaking from the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test, but it is still hard for me to understand the lecture, neither I cannot express my opinion clearly [in] seminar[s]. So I still need more English practice,” said Huang.

All international postgraduate students have met the minimum language requirement of at least 6.5 overall with no band lower than 6.0 before they receive the full offer to study at the University of Melbourne.

“The score would have been based on research done at the time and endorsed by the University Selection Procedures Committee before being approved by the Academic Board,” said Doug Aplin, the Portfolio Manager at the university Office of Admission. “I cannot say for sure why that particular score (6.5) was settled on.”

The Academic Board have not replied to comment on the IELTS. Most of the interviewed first year international postgraduate students do not think the IELTS is enough for them to tackle academic challenges. “The content of IELTS is much more simple, general than what we learn in the courses,” said Candy Tang, a business graduate student.

The difficulty of understanding or catching up with what the teachers talk about in class is the largest challenge.

“There are too many professional terms or academic theories that are heard. It confuses me most of the time,” said Huang, who always tries to understand the content via Powerpoint. “But what the Powerpoint shows is just something summarised. The specific things which are taught by lecturers and tutors still baffle me,” she said.

The language issue also leads to another problem. Many international postgraduate students have said they prefer to work with people from the same country when having a discussion or doing a group assignment. Language barriers challenge Julie Cao, a Chinese international student studying a Masters of Chemical Engineering. “When I ask local students or students from other countries questions, even though they explain patiently, I still feel confused. It is embarrassing to ask for repetition frequently, so I just guess the meaning. Finally, I have to ask another Chinese student again.”

Nevertheless, students aim to get through these difficulties after reviewing subject content.”You need to log onto the LMS to find the recording after lectures. And you need to listen to it carefully while combining it with lecture slides. After that, things will be much more clear,” said Cao.

Flora Zhang has studied at the University of Melbourne for one year, and has shared her way of minimising difficulties in class discussions. “An interesting idea can engage you into discussion with native and other international students, so it is necessary for you to read the required reading in advance. The more you read, the more ideas you can create.”

Aplin has suggested that using the Academic Skills service of university can be useful to students. “You can book the Academic Skills adviser on the university website, and they can give you direction in different aspects of studying,” explained Aplin.