The Economics Network

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5. Supporting International Students of Economics at Cardiff University

5.1 Background

International students who choose to study Economics at Cardiff Business School join an international academic community of nearly 2,000 students from 60 countries, and staff from about 30 countries. The school also has a strong network of alumni from 120 countries. There is a long tradition of bringing together academic perspectives informed by international diversity, of embracing international students and of seeking how best to support their success in a variety of ways.

5.2 Welcoming international students to Cardiff

Cardiff Business School recognises that it is a major change for many international students to study in the UK, in terms of social, study and research practices. For many international students this is the first time they have travelled outside their country of origin, and many will be very excited by this opportunity but will also have a number of anxieties. For example, the experience of trying to orient oneself in a big airport, typically with bulky luggage, whilst not being able to clearly understand others or make oneself understood to others can be overwhelming.

International students coming to study Economics at the Cardiff Business School are supported from the moment they arrive in the UK, so that they feel welcome and looked after at a time when they could feel vulnerable. The International Office, in collaboration with the Business School, organises a full programme of induction activities including the collection of international students from airports (Heathrow and Cardiff) in easily recognisable minibuses, help with luggage, and transport to student accommodation in Cardiff. The university accommodation in residences is arranged prior to the arrival of the international students, is guaranteed for the duration of the period of study and is mostly within walking distance of, or a bicycle ride from, the Business School.  Single gender accommodation is also offered as an option.

The induction activities for the undergraduate Economics student cohort includes talks and tours to the Business School, its Library and university facilities, and social events where students can meet and mix with their colleagues and meet Economics staff. Representatives of the University and of the Business School, including course convenors, participate. Students are informed of what they can expect from their courses and from the University. The induction activities are excellent opportunities for international and UK students to meet and network, and to create a sense of community with a shared purpose.

5.3 Supporting international students in MSc programmes

The School acknowledges in its induction provision that it is imperative to develop a community amongst students and staff in intensively taught postgraduate programmes that last only a year. Students in such programmes, including international students in Economics Masters programmes, typically have high expectations and high requirements and the induction programme is customised accordingly. An expression of the high level at which these programmes are conducted, is that students are given copies of the core text books they need.

Meetings take place early on between each student and their allocated personal tutor, where students are encouraged to seek advice on academic matters, or any issue that may impact on their future progress.

Each individual postgraduate degree programme organises an event to introduce students to each other and to highlight the importance of peer support and networking. Course tutors are invited to participate, and the framework of the course, expectations and requirements are explained as well as the support systems in place within the School, including those relating to English language, careers and disability. The School is aware that international students, in particular, may miss out on or may misunderstand relevant information provided to them during induction week. There are, therefore, systems in place to ensure that students are informed and feel supported at all times.

5.4 Personal tutoring system

Undoubtedly, the personal tutor system constitutes a very effective support structure for international undergraduate students of Economics. Each student is attributed a personal tutor with whom they have scheduled one-to-one meetings on a monthly basis. Students are further encouraged to meet with their personal tutor outside the scheduled times if any problems arise. The meetings with personal tutors are mainly for academic guidance that may include choice of modules, and for clarifying academic practices or issues, for example assessment methods and plagiarism.

The role of personal tutors goes well beyond the strictly academic, as it also includes helping with any problems that affect, or may come to affect, the students’ academic achievements. Personal tutors are fundamental for pastoral support, particularly of international students. Their role of guiding students in need to other support services within the School or the University is well established. Personal tutors get to know their students very well, and they normally act as referees for their tutees in the context of job applications.

5.5 Teaching and assessment

Regarding teaching and assessment, Economics teaching staff at Cardiff Business School use a variety of methods to address the diversity of international students. Teaching staff are encouraged to use interactive methods to enliven their teaching; to embed international examples from research carried out in the Economics section; and to use relevant international examples when explaining economic models that go beyond US- or UK/Europe-centric normally presented in core Economics text books.

Some international students find it very difficult to take notes in class so resources are available on the VLE, and teaching staff prepare hand-outs that are distributed at the beginning of lectures.

Economics international students can also benefit from practical experience of the financial markets by means of a fully interactive Trading Room. The Trading Room replicates real-world trading experiences and functions, and allows students to develop a number of skills and insights as they test their technical knowledge of finance-related challenges.

The assessment portfolio is diversified, to provide for an international student population with very different previous educational experience as students from different regions may find elements of assessment particularly challenging. For example, some international students find essay type questions initially very difficult, others have never experienced written tests, and some have never had timed examinations. Group work, and preparing and giving oral presentations, can be particularly testing for many international students. These issues are especially significant for newly arrived international students. As international students progress in their programmes, they learn what is required from them and grow to understand what to expect.

5.6 Dealing with plagiarism

Regarding essay writing, particular emphasis is placed on ensuring that international students do not plagiarise. Hand-outs, online information and lectures are part of the Economics staff’s efforts to support international students in understanding what plagiarism is and its consequences. Practical tips on how not to plagiarise by using examples of how to summarise information and what is acceptable and unacceptable practice are also available.

Once they start writing assignments international students who have seemingly understood all the information provided regarding plagiarism, do not follow the guidelines explained and provided. Personal tutors are very quick at picking up problems faced by inexperienced or anxious students, who inadvertently do not follow the requirements. By year 2, with the support of personal tutors, international students rarely need to be reminded of plagiarism and the consequences of plagiarising.For international students in taught postgraduate programmes, and for those who come for a short period of time, personal tutors are particularly alert, so that problems regarding plagiarism do not arise.

5.7 Working in groups

Teaching staff in Economics understand that many international students are unused to working in groups and find it difficult to see the relevance of group working in an academic context. The staff explain the skills that can be gained through working in groups, and in particular, groups with international membership, to deter UK and international students who want to work in groups where all members are from the same country or region.

5.8 Language support

Other specific mechanisms to directly and practically support international students include the provision of in-house English language support classes given by specialist academic language tutors. These classes are free of charge, and are different from the pre-sessional English language courses provided by the University. They are organised by the Business School and focus on the development of advanced academic English skills. Particular emphasis is given to the language skills needed to write academic essays.

For some international students, even at postgraduate level, this is the first time they are required to write long written pieces of academic text in any language, so it is not surprising that many miss the significance of essay writing in academic practice, and find writing essays problematic. Undergraduate international students can normally access two hours of small group English classes per week, during their first two terms at the School.

The provision of English classes to international students in taught postgraduate Economics programmes is more intense due to the shorter time-frame of their programme, and the higher level requirements of their written work. International students in these programmes can enrol in two hours per week of tailored, small group, English classes, and can also benefit from one-to-one language tutorials. PhD students can also enrol in one-to-one tutorials.

5.9 The Maths Support Service

Another source of support that is available for international students is the Maths Support Service. Students with problems in mathematics or statistics can either attend pre-booked appointments or drop-in sessions. The Service is staffed by tutors who are friendly, informal and very well prepared technically. Both appointments and drop-in sessions can be on a one-to-one basis or in small groups, and typically last 30 to 50 minutes. The Support service also offers Economics-specific, drop-in sessions that can be organised through the Cardiff Business School.

The Maths Support Service’s website23 also offers access to electronic resources including tips on study skills for Mathematics, reading, writing, problem solving, revision and exam skills. These resources include online tutorials, booklets, quizzes, links to Maths software for Economics (METAL24 and Bized25), links to the Economics resource part of the Mathcentre website26, and to other more general maths and stats websites that address different learning levels.

Whilst the Service is available to all University of Cardiff students, newly arrived international students in particular may benefit, as they tend to feel anxious in asking questions to their teaching staff, and may find it easier to ask for support outside the School. In addition, being able to access online resources in their own time, at their own pace, can be reassuring for international students.

5.10 Student Support and Careers Advisory Service

The Business School has a dedicated Student Support Officer who also has the responsibility of being the School’s Student Disability Contact. The remit of these combined posts is to be an easily accessible point of reference for the multitude of resources available at the University at large including student finance, regulations and support services, and to provide information on how to access disability/specific learning difficulties support.

The Business School also has its in-house careers advisory service, which is particularly important in supporting international students seeking internships and applying for jobs. The service supports international students in contacting prospective employers, preparing CVs and covering letters, filling in electronic job application forms, and providing training on job interviews.

5.11 Social events

With the advent of free, or near-free, digital communication systems and social networking platforms available on mobile phones, some international students can miss out on opportunities to socialise with their colleagues, by spending their free time socialising virtually with their friends back home. This effectively reduces their need to explore new friendships, and affects the development of their English language skills.

Social events organised by the Economics section and the School become particularly important to avoid such situations becoming commonplace. For example, as part of the support mechanisms for dissertations that Economics taught postgraduate students are required to write, the Business School organises a two-day residential academic and social programme. Each student gives a presentation with the proposed outline of their dissertation, and the academic staff offer comments and suggestions.

International students, in particular, really appreciate the combination of the academic focus of the residential with being able to meet their teachers informally. The event takes place in an impressive period home in the Welsh countryside, which adds the opportunity for international students to experience an unusual traditional setting.

The Cardiff Business School organises social receptions where postgraduate students in taught programmes can meet academic staff on a less formal basis, and a high-profile annual formal dinner in Cardiff City Hall for all postgraduate students in taught and research programmes. The dinner is attended by the most senior University personnel, academic and support staff, and by local business and political dignitaries. International students are encouraged to wear their formal national dress and this event constitutes a most memorable experience for all.

5.12 Alumni

Economics students at the Cardiff Business School benefit from the public celebration of its successful international alumni. This can be meaningful in supporting current international students as it confirms that they are valued. Synergy, the School magazine, features profiles, interviews or main articles, including cover articles, of high-profile international alumni. Keynote speakers from all over the world are invited to contribute to the seminar series organised by the School. Students understand the employability benefits of learning in such a lively international environment.

5.13 International Foundation Programme, Cardiff Business School

This is a comprehensive one-year academic training programme that aims to prepare international students to meet the requirements and expectations of UK academic, cultural and social life. International students wanting to study Economics can have ‘Introduction to Economics’ as one of the specific modules they can choose to study. This covers principles and tools of microeconomics and macroeconomics, and relationships with economic policy and implementation.  Other academic modules in the programme include ‘Business Studies’, ‘Quantitative Methods for Business’ and ‘Introduction to Management’.

The programme’s non-academic compulsory modules are ‘English Language and Study Skills’, ‘English for Academic Purposes’, ‘Integrated Study Skills’ and of particular relevance ‘British Social and Cultural Environment’, as it is recognised that social and cultural aspects can impact greatly on the settling in, retention and achievement of international students.

In terms of language, the aims of the programme are that international students wanting to undertake Economics study develop their English language skills to a level that allows them to feel confident reading, writing, speaking and listening to academic level standards, and to increase their knowledge of subject specific technical vocabulary for which, notably, they have specialist tuition available.

International students have the opportunity to learn the practicalities of the UK academic system since and the modules are taught in a variety of ways, including lectures, seminars, tutorials and online materials. Similarly, the assessment methods used during the programme aim at training international students in what they will experience once they start their undergraduate study. These assessment methods range from exams, essays, reports, oral presentations and project group work.

Over the course of the programme, international students learn, experience and get used to aspects of academic UK practice that traditionally many find difficult.  These include asking and answering questions in class, contributing with ideas, critically appreciating academic resources, completing timed exam questions, understanding marking schemes, academic referencing practices and plagiarism issues.

Other practical skills include the use of the Library and Resource Centres; the computing facilities, IT systems, and software packages (particularly word processing, spreadsheet and slideshow programmes), as well as the internet to study and communicate with staff and colleagues. International students are advised on how to access support from the University Computing Advisory Service. They also learn the significance of Personal Development Planning (PDP) to record their own reflections on the learning process and achievements, to set learning and development goals, and for career development. PDP approaches are not generally available to undergraduate level students in many countries, but are very useful as similar reflection and recording tools are increasingly being used as part of the assessment methods for project group work in Economics courses.

Students also get to know and to use the attendance recording system in use at the Business School, and the legal reasons for its use.

The International Foundation Programme at the Cardiff Business School offers the compulsory module ‘British Social and Cultural Environment’. This module deals with cultural issues relating to the UK, Cardiff and Wales, and raises awareness of some of the practical, everyday situations that typically can result in unnecessary anxiety for newly arrived international students. Simple things that UK students would not normally have any problem with, such as shopping or using public transport, opening of a bank account or registering with the local doctor, are all practical aspects that some international students may struggle with and that are addressed in this module.

The programme has a dedicated system of personal tutors and support staff so that students benefit from high levels of pastoral care. The University guarantees accommodation for the year of study, and students gain access to all the facilities and services available to undergraduate students including computing, library and resource centres, as well as the welfare, social and sporting facilities.

International students wanting to study Economics who attend the International Foundation Programme at the Cardiff Business School have a variety of choices for Undergraduate Study ranging from BSc in Economics, to BSc in Economics and Management Studies, BSc in Economics and Finance, and joint honours degrees.

With the anxieties relating to being in a new country essentially resolved, and equipped with a good understanding of the UK cultural and academic practices and expectations, international students completing this International Foundation Programme should be well prepared to succeed in their undergraduate degree. In addition, they should be in a position, very much like their UK counterparts, to participate equitably and contribute fully to the variety of academic, social and career opportunities supported by their institution.