Medical English: understanding, intonation and being the bearer of bad news

“The true test of a doctor’s communication skills has to be the delivery of bad news”

In the UK’s recent general election, the National Health Service was a keenly debated issue – in particular, the trend for overseas doctors working in the UK and their language ability. In this blog, cross-posted from The London School of English‘s blog, Ros Wright, who delivered the school’s new English for Medical Professionals course to a group of doctors in the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, writes about the course and the importance of teaching tailored communication skills.

Greeting my trainees at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham with the local colloquialism – ‘Hey-up me duck!’ – I was not entirely surprised by the sea of blank faces. However, as a Nottingham lass myself, I felt duty bound to ensure that each and every one of these new NHS recruits were at least able to respond with a ‘Hi, how are you?’ by the end of the session.

Awareness of patient language (colloquial language, common expressions for medical conditions, etc.) is just one aspect of the new Medical English course – English for Medical Professionals piloted recently as part of a joint partnership with Remedium, specialists in the recruitment of overseas doctors for the NHS. The aim of EMP is to prepare qualified overseas doctors to function effectively in an English-speaking environment.

“Although highly skilled with a minimum of IELTS 7.5, of this group of Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Nigerian and Turkish doctors, fewer than half had followed medical communications courses in their own language”

Although highly skilled with a minimum of IELTS 7.5, of this group of Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Nigerian and Turkish doctors, fewer than half had followed medical communications courses in their own language; a situation that is not uncommon. Aside from an understanding of the local culture, other areas critical for effective doctor-patient communication include pronunciation (particularly word stress) and intonation, as well as an appreciation of the professional culture of the NHS which may differ significantly from their own experience. This two-day pilot course would feature an introduction to the NHS and the development of key skills in English, such as breaking bad news and participating in handovers.

The true test of a doctor’s communication skills has to be the delivery of bad news; a complex task often carried out several times a week. If delivered poorly, the experience remains with the patient long after the initial shock of the news itself. This is further compounded if the doctor needs to do so in a language that is not their own.

Beginning from the premise that ‘Bad news is any information, which adversely and seriously affects an individual’s view of his or her future’ (Baile et al, 2000), Day 2 focused on use of the SPIKES communication model for breaking bad news adapted for the medical English classroom. Trainees spent the morning developing language to: Set the scene, determine the patient’s Perception of their situation, deliver the preferred amount of Information, and Knowledge, while providing Empathy and finally laying out a Strategy for the future. The morning ended with a series of role-plays enabling the trainees to put their enhanced skills into practice.

While sharing a platform with the Medical Director of the QMC was a major coup during the pilot course, the icing on the cake was by far this quote from one of the trainees: ‘This is an excellent course, filling a void with regards to the introduction of overseas doctors to the NHS. The course has the potential to expand, develop and become a staple in trusts across the UK.” Indeed, it is hoped the pilot will result in the adoption of EMP as part of the induction programme for all overseas doctors recruited to work in the Nottingham University Hospitals Trust.

In the meantime, Nottingham’s popular greeting, Hey-up me Doc … sorry … duck, has since been made famous by the likes of Dolly Parton and Angelina Jolie. If you don’t believe me, google it!

Read more about the English for Medical Professionals course on The PIE News.

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Universities, international students and “agents” – the perceptional disconnect

“There is a huge perceptional disconnect that is endemic within university staff at all levels and demonstratively so, when it comes to the role and use of ‘agents’”

In his second entry for The PIE Blog, Naveen Chopra, Chairman of The Chopras, one of India’s top study abroad agencies, once again challenges the definition of and criticisms levelled at “agents” in the international education industry. See his previous blog here.

At the core of the persistent and on-going debate within the wider media and university sector on the use and relevance of “agents” since many years, there is a huge perceptional disconnect that is endemic within university staff at all levels and demonstratively so, when it comes to the role and use of “agents”.

Within universities across the world, there seems to be some deep psychological need for the adamant use of “put down” images and terminology that itself starts with the continued use of the word “agent” for those who form the front line of universities and provide a service and perform tasks that are far removed from the domain of the “agent” except in the mode of payment, a commission. This is in an age of extreme “political” correctness and demands for accuracy in the use of language.

The Raimo-Humfrey-Huang report provides a definition of “agents”, and I quote in abridged form: “The more contemporary and appropriate definition of the agent activity in relation to higher education is provided on the gov.uk website under Export Agents for International Trade and this includes:

  • Help to sell goods abroad
  • Act on the principal’s behalf by introducing him/her to overseas customers
  • Give information and contacts for overseas markets
  • Identify opportunities
  • Cut costs of setting up overseas offices

In all cases, the agent is expected to possess a skill, knowledge, experience or contacts which it is advantageous to the owner or provider of the commodity to utilise…” (For full definition please see the report).

“Does this definition capture what actually happens at Ground Zero? Judge for yourselves”

Does this definition capture what actually happens at Ground Zero? Judge for yourselves.

Band One students are those who are very clear of the career, they wish to pursue and are thoroughly researched. These have spent humongous time to trawl the Internet, compared all the available course options, rankings, costs and all the rest that form their decision parameters. They have consulted the best within their parental social circles that would include high achieving professionals and successful individuals.

Within this band a small number are focused on the one university they wish to study at even though they will apply to, perhaps half dozen. In this band, their mind will already be made up that if an offer comes from that one university. Those who are willing to spend the time are confident of their ability to turn in the best applications, are confident of visa documentation etc. will generally form the “direct” student band to universities. Universities best love these because there is no “commission” cost. The ratio of students falling in this band is relatively small. However, those that do not wish to spend valuable time on the process or are not clear or confident of the visa part of their application are approaching “agents” for help.

Band Two are students who are playing the “what are my options” game, in terms of countries, universities etc; throw in work during or after study, migration aims, scholarships and multiple sources of vocal advice that includes parents, relatives, peer friends and the choice pot is already looking like a rainbow palette. Most students in this band will apply to multiple courses in multiple universities in multiple countries.

This band generally forms the vast majority of student visiting the “agent” for multiple discussions and help in condensing down to what are the best of the enormous options available to them. Within the eastern civilisation, families are often involved with this process along with the “agent” often even at postgraduate levels.

“Many from this band don’t do the right thing and end up applying directly to universities about whom they have achieved clarity with ‘agents’”

Many from this band don’t do the right thing and end up applying directly to universities about whom they have achieved clarity with “agents”. Universities hide behind the Data Protection act to deny “agents” a look in to save commission. The data of students advised belongs to the “agent” in the first place. Is that ethical?

We have on record an average of 17 times for students visiting us over one to three year period for discussions and advice, though we recognise that those students who start planning for undergraduate courses in year 10, 11, or 12 and for postgraduate at year one or two of their degree, are our best clients. A part of the “agent” contribution and functioning that universities often refuse to see or acknowledge as possible.

Band Three are students who are confused, underachievers, emotionally under-mature or who need help just to frame what they should be doing in life. These often need a lot of help over multiple sessions and parents are often in the counseling loop, sometimes themselves requiring counseling. These are on the look out for trusted organisations – those who have a “good” reputation. This group is susceptible to unscrupulous “agents” who sell stories rather than provide consultation and genuine advice.

Band Four are students who are looking to get into a Western country under any pretext, the student visa being a “safe” route, with the view to working full time during their student visa tenure and trying all back door means to gain a foot hold or migration. The group that causes the maximum trouble to everyone and is the root cause of the on-going debate related to “agents” and universities.

“What part of the services or operations of companies who cater to these students fall under the definition of ‘agents’? Is it not about time that the terminology to describe such companies change?”

From Band One to Band Three, I would pose the question from universities and their staff, what part of the services, process or activity or operations of companies who cater to these bands of students fall under the definition of “agents”? Is it not about time that the terminology to describe such companies change?

Those catering to Band four do fall under the “agent” tag and should be banned in any and every way and by all available means to identify and black list such individuals or companies should be taken.

So what terms factually define the work that “agents” catering to Band One to Three performs? Advisor, Consultant, Mentor, Guide, Counselor, Specialist are some that accurately define this work, yet there is extreme resistance to using any terminology other than “agent” within universities and their staff, top down. Is this because universities and their staff insist on viewing the relationship as an up-down relationship where the university staffs are the masters and the “agents” servants? How can anyone talk of “partnership”, the image of which is one of equality, mutual respect and value addition in one breath and then use the term “agent”, whose meaning and mental image we all know is derogatory and demeaning? Perhaps this encapsulates to perfection the underlying argument that I make about the Perceptional Disconnect at universities. Intellectually I take great umbrage at the usage of the term as it neither accurately describes what we do nor denotes respect for our activities.

The managing of “agents” aspect is also exercising the universities’ minds, but requires another article that I shall endeavor to pen, if it helps the cause of arriving at a workable blueprint for both sides.

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‘Australia does it better than most’: leading the way in marketing and recruitment

“A strategic focus on international enrolments is critical if countries want to stay competitive in the international student market”

Denis Whelan, APAC vice president of sales at international education resources, services and technology company Hobsons shares his thoughts on why he believes Australian institutions are so successful attracting students from overseas in comparison to the US, in light of Hobsons’ most recent report.

International students are savvy consumers, looking for the best return on what is often a significant financial investment. While an international education provides the opportunity to become a truly global citizen – building strong networks and leadership skills across borders – what students really want is tangible outcomes from their international degree.

When it comes down to it, the most important factor for international students is being able to get a job upon graduation or continue to advance their academic journey.

Hobsons’ latest research report, The ‘Return on Investment’ of an International Degree: A Survey of Prospective International Students to the USA, reveals that more than half of all international students rate getting a job as the most important factor for a university degree.

When it comes to attracting and converting overseas potential students, Australia does it better than most, leading the way in best-practice international education marketing and recruitment.

“This visa arrangement gives Australian universities a major competitive advantage over competitors like the US and Canada”

Currently in Australia, a post-study work visa gives bachelor degree graduates a two-year visa to stay and work in the country. This visa arrangement gives Australian universities a major competitive advantage over competitors like the United States and Canada.

Australia also provides the opportunity for students to work part-time while studying, which assists with living expenses while also giving them the opportunity to gain professional experience.

When it comes to choosing a university, prospective international students look for quality of education that will guarantee them a job at the end of their study. Universities that can demonstrate strong graduate employment outcomes are highly sought after.

In this respect, while the United States can boast some of the world’s top universities for teaching and research, it struggles to demonstrate solid job opportunities for graduates.

“Students considering studying in the United States are less optimistic about the employment options an overseas degree will provide than students considering Australia”

Hobsons’ research found students considering studying in the United States are less optimistic about the employment options an overseas degree will provide than students considering Australia.

Demonstrating direct pathways to employment after graduation has been an area where rival markets, such as Australia, have consistently outperformed the United States.

A strategic focus on international enrolments is critical if countries want to stay competitive in the international student market. Ultimately, this comes down to understanding what students want from an international education – as well as the factors that make them choose not to study in a particular destination – and marketing themselves accordingly.

There is no doubt, understanding students’ definition of return on investment is the key competitive advantage every university needs, regardless of where it is located.

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What’s wrong with summer study programmes

“There are too many people conducting these programmes and there is no real organisation”

Peng Sang, President of the Beijing Overseas Student Service Association, calls for the Chinese government to do more to ensure summer study programmes serve students well.

The number of students using their holiday break to study abroad is on the increase. The number of students from China participating in summer or winter study programmes has increased from 230,000 in 2013 to 300,000 in 2014, an increase of 30-40%.

According to statistics sourced from Baidu Search Engine, the number of comments regarding holiday study student figures reached 2,120,000 within a one month period. This is an overall increase of 11%. The above mentioned figures show that the number of people wishing to undertake holiday study programs is enormous and will increase in the coming years.

The number of comments on Baidu regarding holiday study student figures reached 2,120,000 within a one month period

The current problem is there are too many people conducting these programmes and there is no real organisation. Secondly, the format of these programmes seems to be all the same, i.e. half day language study/half day outside activities.

There is limited variety in programme structure. These may not help students improve their language level or deeper understand the local culture. Thirdly, there is no regulation on pricing. More often than not the fees are too high, sometimes higher than regular holiday tours of similar content.

For a long period the Chinese government has paid little attention to the development of this industry. This has led to the current situation.

“For a long period the Chinese government has paid little attention to the development of this industry”

The Guide for Study Abroad Programs of Primary and Secondary School Students issued by the Ministry of Education in July 2014 shows that the Chinese Education Department is starting to pay attention to the holiday study industry. This is good news.

Having this new material is much better than having nothing at all. However, the Guide only really represents the government’s attitude, and only shows that the government is participating in the discussion. With no real enforcement and implementation of the content it is difficult to regulate the holiday study industry. In reality this approach will not solve the problem. The biggest problem concerning holiday study programmes is enforcing regulations upon those running these programmes.

BOSSA members are all overseas study service organisations which are jointly supervised by BOSSA and the Chinese government. Any guidance or suggestions made by the government will directly influence their operations. In reality, the Guide will have a limited influence on BOSSA members. As far as I know the requirements for BOSSA members to adhere to the provisions outlined in the Guide are minimal. Our members are already meeting these requirements and in some cases do more than is required of them.

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Fraud: a growing problem in education, and how to guard against it

“UK universities and colleges are in an uncomfortable position at the immigration front line. Due diligence has to be completed to demonstrate to the Home Office auditors that robust systems are in place”

As institutions work to tackle the problem fraud in student applications, Steve Miller of UK NARICthe designated national agency responsible for providing information, advice and expert opinion on qualifications worldwide, shares some pointers on how to spot fake documents.

This certificate was submitted to UK NARIC. Is it real, or a fake? Applying the simple checks given provides the answer. Some fake certificates are easy to detect, others are more difficult.

This certificate was submitted to UK NARIC. Is it real, or a fake? Applying the simple checks given provides the answer. Some fake certificates are easy to detect, others are more difficult.

‘I didn’t know fraud was so common, so widespread’ – that’s the comment UK NARIC hears again and again from the university and college staff who attend its fraud workshops and seminars.

UK NARIC has been running its fraud training for over eight years – so we have trained a lot of staff from HE institutions. And in that time, we have had to develop the training year-on-year, because fraud has definitely become more common, and the fraudulent techniques adopted have become more elaborate.

The rise in numbers of international applications has increased the challenge for admissions staff – there are more applications to be sifted and checked, and from a greater variety of places, so staff have to learn and become familiar with an ever-wider array of qualification certificates and ID documents.

“Staff have to learn and become familiar with an ever-wider array of qualification certificates and ID documents”

UK universities and colleges are in an uncomfortable position at the immigration front line. Due diligence on applications has to be completed, and the evidence and audit trails all have to be there, to justify decisions taken and to demonstrate to the Home Office auditors that robust systems are in place.

Establishing with certainty the identity of an applicant is first base. Fake ID documents are a growing problem, but so too are genuine documents obtained illegally. Check across all documents supplied looking for discrepancies in the name and in age/date of birth. Any changes in name, eg due to marriage, should of course be supported by the necessary further documents – marriage certificates etc.

Be aware that there is a growing trade in fake EU passports – a popular choice as these give entry to any EU country without a visa. You will need to learn passport security features and check that documents have all of these. Some inexpensive equipment will help – most security features can be checked with a magnifying glass and a black light (UV-A lamp).

“Be aware that there is a growing trade in fake EU passports – a popular choice as these give entry to any EU country without a visa”

Social media can be a useful help to you. Check on a person’s ‘web imprint’. Do their Facebook posts match their claimed age and educational history? Do locations match – during their claimed years of study, have they been posting online from the university town you would expect? Facebook and other social media image uploads can also help with checking passport photos.

When it comes to qualifications, the first challenge is to check that the issuing institution is fully recognised. With such high numbers of applications coming from India and China, you may well encounter certificates from an unrecognised institution – there are many of them in these huge countries. Those of you who are subscriber members of UK NARIC will know that you can access full listings of recognised institutions in each country using our online data banks.

The next stage is to check if the certificate is genuine. If you are receiving a good number of international applications, you can and should build a library of certificates over time, to act as a live reference base against which incoming certificates can be compared.

Check certificates for all the obvious things first – all spelling should be correct; check all alignment – are type and graphics all properly centred and is everything straight? Check that dates are rendered correctly and that they make sense in terms of the qualification.

A more advanced level of checking would be to examine the signatures on the degree certificate – not only that the signature matches the genuine signature for the person named, but also that the Vice Chancellor or Principal named is correct in terms of the date of issue of the document.

“Print quality is not always a good guide to genuineness”

Print quality is not always a good guide to genuineness. Some recognised and well-established institutions in developing countries issue degree certificates that are not especially ‘well printed’. But type and graphical alignment will still be accurate.

UK NARIC would always advise that you do not rely on the degree certificate alone, but that you also obtain a transcript. This gives you further information to check against – module marks can be checked against the final degree classification; award titles should tally; course duration can be checked against the standards and norms for the country. If you cannot obtain a transcript from the applicant then you can request one direct from the institution.

A good general knowledge of countries’ education systems is a useful asset for anyone doing these sorts of checks.

UK NARIC offers advice and support to universities and colleges in all these areas – visit www.naric.org.uk to find out more.

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Universities, agents and international students: contribution and the controversy

“Let’s get this straight, shall we?”

Naveen Chopra, Chairman of The Chopras, one of India’s top study abroad agencies, takes on some of the criticisms aimed at agents in the international education industry.

Lately, a lot of stories have appeared in the media across the western world currently led by Australia’s newspapers, with headlines such as Gaping cracks open up in the Ivory Towers. Everyone is in on the act, including ABC’s Four Corners TV programme; which tried to demolish the reputation of Australian universities and the “agents” they use.

NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s paper points to falling standards at Australian universities and “the increasingly conspicuous role of third-party “agents” in recruiting students as a concerning development.

“‘Agents’ are an easy target and scapegoat”

How agents are responsible for a fall in standards at any university, given that they have absolutely no say in the management or running of any institution they represent, is beyond me. Then again, “agents” are an easy target and scapegoat.

That is not to say that all “agents” are bathed in milk, quite the contrary; many justify the negative perception, but most of those who are the best in the business, the drivers of the student traffic, are providing an essential service to student clients, and indeed in many cases to the universities they work with in helping frame and implement local strategies.

These are front-line, innovative and ethical organisations that do not deserve the “agent” tag by any stretch. They are “agents” only in the mode of payment, a commission.

Over the years I have been noting a lot of similar negative stories appearing in various media across the globe. The PIE News has tracked and published many articles and views from within the industry on these subjects in the past few years. Conscientious objectors to the “agent” factor appear to be led by Mr Vincenzo Raimo from his Nottingham University days to his present position of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Reading.

“He neglects to mention the over £10m per year created for his university without risk and with minimal investment”

Mr Raimo’s core position stems from the stance of “undue” influence that agents have acquired over the student traffic and cost of student acquisition. He points to over £1m that his university paid its agents but neglects to mention the over £10m per year created for his university without risk and with minimal investment.

No one seems to have taken a measure of how much it costs a university to sift through all of the thousands of direct applications before they even get condensed to the lot that prima facie qualify from which selections can be made; or the cost of enrolling students who are not suited to the university. Compare this to the applications that come pre-vetted to meet entry requirements, and pre-counselled over multiple sessions, to the point of the university being one of the best fits for the student.

And what about the “cost” of empty seats in many courses and classrooms across universities?

Within the global education space, the choice matrix for students is so huge in terms of countries, courses and universities and the information overload so baffling that these market dynamics have built the agency brands more than anything else. It certainly did for us at The Chopras.

In today’s fast changing world, where jobs are likely to disappear or be created by the time a student completes a course, the future is hugely uncertain, and making choices as to what course to study and where, is quite an ask and requires in-depth expertise within today’s knowledge economy.

Most sensible universities look out for this class of company.

Moving on to the other wider debate within western societies fuelled by the immigration discourse; let us put aside, for a moment, the huge economic contributions that international students make in different markets: £15bn+ in Britain; AUS$17.5 bn+ in Australia; billions of dollars in the US.

Given the huge supply-demand deficiency for quality education in Asia, the move by western countries and universities to “sell” themselves to international students netted massive numbers of aspiring students from China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh.

Whilst this movement catapulted education to be one of the biggest export earner, it also brought the problems in its wake that are now so much in the news. The question is, what were or are the key factors fuelling the problem?

Let us look at the nature of the international student. Broadly, international students can be stratified into three bands in socio-economic and “intent” terms. The top strata are students from very wealthy families, sort of the creamy layer.

For these, the sole intent of going overseas for an education is to gain the best education that money can buy. These are looking for exposure, a broadening of their mental horizons to prepare for a truly globalised world. This band tends to head back home after graduating or, the top performing ones might land jobs that they will take for a couple of years before heading back.

“These students actively contribute to the larger issues of skill deficiencies in key sectors”

In the second band fall students from middle to upper middle class families who generally have enough money to send their children overseas for their education but, many have some pressure to work while studying to subsidise themselves and for a large percentage of these, migration is the eventual aim. These students actively contribute to the larger issues of skill deficiencies in key sectors. Aging populations and the apparent lack of desire on the part of local populations to take up courses perceived as hard provide fuel to this segment.

The third band generally can be defined as the “grey market” band and comprises students from the lower socio-economic strata whose agenda is to get into the country on a student visa with the intention of working full time during their academic year and somehow finding their way to immigrate. This is the group that causes maximum damage and controversy that tars the entire student community debate.

So wherein lies the problem? It rests squarely within the third, the “grey” market band. Who is responsible? Please consider this; while the window was open, Sikh students from the Punjab in India (who revere their hair and do not cut it) were being dished out visas for hairdressing courses like pancakes at a party.

“Sikh students from the Punjab were being dished out visas for hairdressing courses like pancakes at a party”

Did the visa officers not know this? Of course they did, so why did it happen? Your guess is as good as mine. This is an extreme case but illustrative.

Originally, various governments took responsibility and assessed the quality, intent, financial capacity of applicants. It appears that the sheer volume of applications overwhelmed the system and some bright bureaucrats probably came up with the idea of passing on this responsibility to universities through the current SVP for Australia, and similar approaches elsewhere.

The US is still interviewing each visa applicant prior to granting a visa, and do not have anywhere near the problems that are on display here. On the other end of the spectrum are those “agents” who actively tap into the lucrative “grey” market. Again, for instance, in Punjab, India, the going rate for an Australian, British or other visa ranges from US$15-30,000. Here documents are forged, financial picture padded and case presented.

Various governments expect, indeed have forced, universities to police this. Does that make any sense at all? How are they supposed to have the means to first carry out the sort of background checks required of such “agents” that fuel this phenomenon, and then to monitor them?

“Various governments expect, indeed have forced, universities to police this”

Finally, besides being huge contributors to the western economy, international students are also, in their home countries, the cheapest, self-paid ambassadors and influence peddlers of the country where they study, as these are the future leaders of their countries.

Let’s get real here and lift the contours of the debate by not passing the blame to the one entity, the “agent” that has absolutely no say in university decision making.

Of course, the grey market “agent” has to be identified and barred but is it not about time that the best of these were co-opted in the debate and in framing the right structure while looking after the best interest of the student?

The Chopras is one of India’s largest and most reputed student counselling organisations, helping over 10,000 students each year achieve their international study ambitions. 

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“I will nail my colours to the mast”: EU membership and immigration in the wake of the UK general election

“I will nail my colours to the mast now, of being very clearly pro-European. Higher education must work closely with industry to explain clearly the many benefits of full EU membership”

In a letter to UCL staff cross-posted here on The PIE Blog, UCL vice chancellor and former head of the Russell Group Michael writes about how the Conservatives’ shock majority win in last week’s general election will affect UCL and the UK higher education sector from an international perspective.

The opinion polls, we now know, were wrong. It seems around 3% of voters were telling the pollsters one thing, only to do another in the polling booth. I read an interesting analysis of this phenomenon at the weekend, but what does the result mean for UCL? While some of my thoughts will, of necessity, be speculative, the fact that we face a Conservative majority government for the next five years makes it easier to anticipate what is coming than would have been the case had the voters returned the widely anticipated hung parliament.

“A Conservative government does present some significant challenges to higher education with respect to issues such as immigration and also the proposed EU referendum”

A Conservative government does, of course, present some significant challenges to higher education with respect to issues such as immigration and also the proposed EU referendum. On immigration, we need to constantly remind government that bringing the best and the brightest to Britain to study or to work in our universities is of immense value to our nation. Immigration enriches our university, our city, and the country we live in and many that come will make a positive contribution to our economy through their ideas, enterprise and innovation. We have to work with Treasury and with Business Industry and Skills (BIS) to persuade the Home Office to understand the importance of immigration to our future economic success.

Against that background, it was with interest that I learnt that the new Secretary of State for BIS, announced earlier this week is Sajid Javid. He is the UK-born son of an immigrant of Pakistani descent. A worked example of the benefits of immigration in such a powerful position in government has to be of value in tackling this issue.

I have written before about the serious consequences for UCL if the UK were to withdraw from the European Union. The proposed referendum on EU membership is now definitely going to occur, towards the end of 2017 at the latest. David Cameron is allegedly going to attempt to broker a ‘new deal’ for the UK with the EU in advance of the referendum, but clearly there is no certainty of the outcome being positive. I will nail my colours to the mast now, of being very clearly pro-European. Higher education must work closely with industry to explain clearly the many benefits of full EU membership, not only to the way we function as a university, but to the nation more generally.

“Effective lobbying is best done largely behind the scenes, with politicians and their advisors and officials at multiple levels and across all relevant government departments”

My final thoughts this week relate to the amount of lobbying and influence that will be needed to help guide this new government in the right direction with respect to policies that ultimately help our higher education system remain internationally competitive. The one thing I learnt when I was Chair of the Russell Group is that there is no quick fix and that effective lobbying is best done largely behind the scenes, with politicians and their advisors and officials at multiple levels and across all relevant government departments. Persistent clear messages are essential. Occasionally it becomes necessary to take a strong stand in the public domain, but that must be used judiciously, as it may just simply entrench opposing views. Please rest assured that UCL’s voice and views will be heard as we address each of these future challenges.

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Hawke’s Bay to London: supply teaching overseas and the time of my life

“In New Zealand, I was never going to get the kind of richness of experience that I’ve been exposed to in England”

Michael Day, International Candidate Manager at Prospero Teaching in the UK, writes on his experience of teaching in London and proving the naysayers wrong.

Hawke’s Bay to London: I’m not the first teacher to make the journey and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the last. But now I’ve been here in the land of ‘pea-soupers’, top hats and Dickensian poverty (only kidding) for six years, I feel I’m ready to evaluate my experience and draw some conclusions.

So after two years as a music teacher what was the response of my NZ colleagues when I told them of my plans to settle in London? ‘Why would you want to do that?’; ‘You’ll get ripped apart’; ‘The kids are terrible’; ‘You’re mad’ were some of the more encouraging comments!

Luckily, I didn’t listen.

As for so many others, the decision to move to the UK was made easier by the fact I have family here: my parents are both originally from England and my brother lives here.

“For me, one of the main attractions of the English education system is the supply system whereby you can move from school to school, picking up new experience and ideas in a very small amount of time”

Career-wise, I seemed to have hit a brick wall. My problem was that I was struggling to find a job as a music teacher in NZ – and this was before the current problem of over-supply was anywhere near as bad as it is now.

My horizons felt very limited. For me, one of the main attractions of the English education system is the supply system whereby you can move from school to school in temporary roles, picking up new experience and ideas in a very small amount of time.

This could not contrast more with the situation in NZ. The system whereby each school – especially in rural areas – has its own own group of local teachers they can call on for supply cover meant that I was never going to get the kind of richness of experience that I’ve been exposed to in England.

When I started teaching in London, I was learning all the time from the different schools where I worked: I was meeting new teachers every day, swapping lesson plans, building up my own library of resources. I felt really energised and stimulated by the new environment.

But what about the kids? Well, what about them? Yes, there are challenging schools in London with challenging kids. But I’d taught in schools at home where there was no support to address bad classroom behaviour, where kids came from a very disadvantaged background and gang culture was prevalent. So no one can claim this is something that’s peculiar to London. And when you remember that there are more than double the number of people in London as in the whole of NZ, of course you’re going to come into contact with a far more diverse population.

“But what about the kids? Well, what about them?”

Coming to the UK can be a permanent career change. Or it can be the most fantastic overseas experience with career development attached. As a supply teacher you enjoy incredible flexibility, you can have days off whenever you want, you don’t do any lesson plans or marking – the work is simply handed to you when you arrive at school.

And you can leave the classroom on a Friday afternoon, head for the airport and be in Rome – or Paris or Athens or Madrid and hundreds of other amazing places – a couple of hours later.

But a word of warning: teachers in permanent posts work extremely hard in the UK. The education system has undergone a period of huge reform under the Coalition government in a bid to raise standards of teaching – and learning. Teacher training in England, too, is extremely demanding. Having observed a friend training in the UK, I’ve been struck by the fact that his workload is literally four times larger than mine was in NZ. And the amount of paperwork teachers have to do in England is, frankly, bananas.

“Having observed a friend training in the UK, I’ve been struck by the fact that his workload is four times larger than mine was in NZ”

But a word of warning: teachers in permanent posts work extremely hard in the UK. The education system has undergone a period of huge reform under the Coalition Government in a bid to raise standards of teaching – and learning. Teacher training in England, too, is extremely demanding. Having observed a friend training in the UK, I’ve been struck by the fact that his workload is literally four times larger than mine was in NZ. And the amount of paperwork teachers have to do in England is, frankly, bananas.

A recent survey shows that 73% of trainee teachers here have considered leaving the profession – mostly due to workload. But if teachers in the UK are being turned off teaching as a permanent career, the opportunities for supply teachers are even greater.

I’m now working for a teacher recruitment agency, helping people like me find the jobs they want and settle into new lives in the UK. I’ve had the time of my life – it seems unfair not to help other share the same experience!

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Combating fraud in international education

“You can’t be expected to know every university in Brazil, but make sure you know the main ones”

The PIE News reporter Beckie Smith writes about some of the key takeaways from UK NARIC‘s recent seminar on education fraud.

On 29 April I attended a fascinating seminar hosted by UK NARIC at Birmingham Metropolitan College’s Sutton Coldfield campus, offering insight into fraud in the international education sector. As well as playing detective with a wad of bogus certificates from a handful of different education markets (I now feel like I could confidently spot a fake Pakistani school certificate at 50 paces), delegates received a number of useful tips to help them safeguard against fraud in their institutions. Here are some of the lessons learned from the event.

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SELTs and Cambridge English at UK universities – a question I get asked a lot

“One area of great concern for the whole UK education system is the risk that people may misunderstand the requirements for Tier 4 student visas”

Blandine Bastie, Regional Manager for UK and Ireland at Cambridge English, clarifies the status of Cambridge English exams for entry into UK universities.

We do understand the government’s desire to simplify the system for language testing for UK visas and the IELTS partners are working very hard to ensure that there is adequate capacity to meet the needs of visa applicants worldwide.

One area of great concern for the whole UK education system is the risk that people may misunderstand the requirements for Tier 4 student visas. We think it’s extremely important that universities can choose how they assess that candidates meet the requirements, and the current legislation gives education institutions the freedom to do this.

For example, one question I get asked a lot is: Are Cambridge English exams still accepted by UK universities? The short answer is yes (under certain circumstances of course). To clarify when Cambridge English exams can be used, we recently published a statement, but in a nutshell, here goes.

Candidates applying for a Tier 4 visa in order to study at degree level and above at a Tier 4 sponsor university are only required to present the proof of English language level that the university requires. This means that UK universities can continue to accept Cambridge English exams, including Cambridge English: Advanced and Proficiency, at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

So when do UK Visas and Immigration require people to take a test from the list of Secure English Language Tests? For courses below degree level, universities need to accept an approved SELT from non-EU international applicants. The IELTS test – which we jointly own with British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia – is included on UKVI’s SELT list. For UK visas and immigration purposes, IELTS will need to be taken under specified conditions at centres which are specifically approved for this purpose.

Obviously we’d recommend that students planning to study at a UK university check the entry requirements with the university itself and the UKVI, but I hope this post has been helpful.

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