Managing language and learning diversity in higher education : enhancing the graduate experience Ramburuth, Prem

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Ramburuth, Prem
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Student needs; Non English speaking background; University teaching
The internationalisation of Higher Education in Australia has contributed towards tertiary classrooms becoming increasingly diverse in their student populations. Institutions and their staff are faced with the problem of managing this diversity, and ensuring quality learning for all students. This paper reports on strategies adopted by a large and diverse Commerce and Economics Faculty at an Australian University, and discusses efforts to understand and address issues of language and learning diversity amongst its graduate student population. It reports on a study that investigated language diversity in a cohort of 381 students and found significant differences in English language capabilities, with 79 percent of international students requiring language support in comparison to 21 percent of local students. The study found no significant differences between international and local graduate students when language results were linked to average academic results. The findings raised awareness of the need for educational support and assistance for students who were otherwise highly competent. They also acted as a catalyst for change in the Faculty's approach to managing the diverse needs of its students, with a major shift from accessing centralised support to the location of language and learning support within the Faculty. Initiatives reflecting this change, such as discipline specific support courses, the integration of this support into subjects, Faculty-specific induction programs, extensive involvement of academic staff, postgraduate staff training and colloquia, and the establishment of a Faculty-based Education Development Unit, are discussed in the context of this paper.
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