The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

Between 1975 and 2009, the number of international students worldwide increased more than fourfold, from 0.8 million to 3.7 million.[1] Over 3.3 million tertiary students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship in 2008.[2] With this increase in mobility of students, global competition to provide international education has increased dramatically. The UK’s share of international education is estimated to be worth more than £10 billion[3] and provides a dynamic, highly skilled and sustainable industry. It is in the light of this context that the Prime Minister’s Initiative (PMI) was launched in the UK in 1999 as a five-year strategy, with funding of £27 million.[4] Among its aims were: to increase the number of international students in Higher Education (HE) by an additional 50,000 by 2004–05 (estimated to be worth £500 million per annum in new export earnings)[5] and to enhance the quality of the education and training received by international students.

In 2006, a second five-year phase, known as PMI2 and costing £35 million, was launched.[6] It aimed to attract an additional 70,000 international students to UK HE; to double the number of countries sending more than 10,000 studentsper annum to the UK; and to improve the experience and employability of international students. Improvements in the experience of international students were thus being sought at the same time as the number of international students was increasing. Adjusting to such a rapidly changing environment without compromising on the quality of academic standards is thus a very important issue for HE institutions (see for example Alauddin and Butler).7

International students of Economics in the UK have also increased noticeably, in line with the general trend over the past few years. According to data pub[7] the total number of Economics students (aggregate of undergraduate, postgraduate, full-time and part-time) in the academic year 1998–99 were 23,030, of which 8,442 were international students (European and non-European).By 2008–09, these numbers had risen by 38% to 31,740 and 11,690, respectively. The total number of Economics students further increased to 34,895 in 2009–10, and to 36,820 in 2010–11. The global financial crisis was found to be a key factor behind the recent surge in enrolment onto Economics degree programmes.[8]

The presence of unprecedentedly high numbers of international students of Economics in UK HE affects all staff, regardless of seniority or experience. Independently of how well resourced Economics departments/sections are, some appear to have evolved clear approaches to supporting international students whilst others are hesitant as to how to proceed. Staff from departments in which good student support is already in place tend to articulate the challenges posed by international students in constructive ways. They describe using creative approaches in their teaching practice, are more open to considering alternatives and view the presence of international students as an opportunity to drive improvements that benefit all students. Staff from departments where guidance is unclear, or limited, report a sense of frustration, and express concerns that the presence of international students works to drive down academic standards.

The aim of this chapter is to share case studies of best practice in support given to international students of Economics. In particular, the approaches and practices employed by

  1. the Economics section at the University of Aberdeen Business School,
  2. the Department of Economics at the University of Bristol,
  3. the Economics section of Cardiff Business School, University of Cardiff, and
  4. the Department of Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

From the Economics section at the University of Aberdeen Business School, approaches were collated relating to working in mixed groups to gain from complementary skills; being mindful of language used; supporting postgraduate international students in taught programmes in improving their employability prospects; training of postgraduate tutors; assessment; and supporting international students in developing oral, written and feedback skills.

At the Department of Economics at the University of Bristol aspects of practice were collected relating to taught postgraduate programmes; the introductory week; the structure of the taught postgraduate programmes; teaching practices; research methods and study skills week; the support given for dissertations; the role of the International Librarian; and the pre-Masters in English for Academic Purposes.

At the Economics section of Cardiff Business School, University of Cardiff, examples of practice were collected relating to welcoming international students; supporting international students in MSc programmes; the personal tutoring system; teaching and assessment; dealing with plagiarism; working in groups; language support; the Maths Support Service; Student Support and Careers Advisory Service; Social Events; Alumni; and the International Foundation Programme.

At the Department of Economics of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) aspects of support were collated around diversity; avoiding the domination of mono-culture groups; participation in class; stretching exceptionally high-ability international students; LSE100; student Union Societies; and the International Organisations’ Day.

The next part of this chapter outlines the key challenges faced by international students identified in the education literature through surveys and case studies. The case studies of best practice for each of the UK HE institutions follow, as well as top tips that emerge from the case studies in their entirety.