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Cynical exploitation?

June 29, 2008

Hello again,

Many overseas students will be preparing for their summer holidays before setting off for higher education in a western ...

university. But British universities have undergone a transformation from the high-principled ivory towers of yore, to degree factories in which commercial interests undermine academic integrity. This cynical devotion to profit makes international students especially valuable as prey. The global market beckons with an apparently limitless supply of fresh young blood, eager to acquire a western qualification and, of course, requiring English language tuition to enable them to follow their courses.

Until recent years, university departments mounted pre-sessional course in English for academic purposes and kept a close eye on the development of the curriculum to ensure that it delivered the necessary grounding to help students cope with the daunting tasks associated with undergraduate and post-graduate courses.

Increasingly, however, universities are outsourcing their pre-sessional courses to private companies. The attraction of this? According to a recent article in The Guardian:
“Research due to be published later this year shows that these companies approach university administrators with related claims: they will use their marketing power to increase the number of international students coming to the university; and they will invest in new buildings to provide an improved experience for international students. The companies have no interest in less profitable programmes and so only acquire foundation and English (pre-sessional) activities.”

Perhaps this would not matter if the academic management of the course remained the responsibility of the universities, but it doesn’t. But if universities wish to make a Faustian compact with the private sector, their cynical exploitation of students will backfire. EAP students seek a pre-sessional course precisely because it is different from what it is on offer at any other language school. As they begin to realise that they not being offered that special provision they will start to question the integrity not just of the language courses but of the universities themselves.

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