Monday, June 29, 2015

British universities slammed for allowing foreign students dictionaries in exams because their English isn't good enough

Half of all British universities allow foreign students to use dictionaries in their exams if their English is not good enough, a MailOnline investigation has revealed.

Among the dozens of institutions which give finalists access to a dictionary are some of the country's most prestigious universities, including 12 members of the elite Russell Group.

Critics suggest that universities are 'sacrificing academic integrity' to recruit more lucrative overseas students, while one MP condemned the policy as 'absolutely ridiculous'.

Of 115 universities surveyed by MailOnline, 62 said that they allow students to use dictionaries in exams if their first language is not English.

Top universities adopting the policy include Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Lancaster, Loughborough, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Nearly all Scottish universities - including Edinburgh, St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen - allow overseas students to use dictionaries.

In total, half of the Russell Group, which is often thought of as the top tier of British universities, sanction the use of dictionaries in exams.

However, Oxford and Cambridge, along with most leading London universities such as University College, King's College, Imperial and LSE, do not allow the practice.

University bosses claim that letting foreign students use dictionaries evens the playing field for all - pointing out that they have to attain a minimum level of English to get a student visa.

However, some experts have suggested that it is unfair to let one group of students use dictionaries when others are not allowed to do so.

In addition, critics link the regulations to universities' push to recruit more students from outside the EU, who pay fees many times higher than those demanded from British students.

Tory MP Philip Davies told MailOnline: 'I think this is absolutely ridiculous. An exam should be the same for everyone and universities shouldn't be bending the rules to help foreign students and giving them qualifications when their standard of English is not up to scratch.  'It is sad that in their desperate rush to get as much money from overseas students as possible that our universities are prepared to compromise on their standards and rigour.'

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, added: 'Once you give a dictionary to the non-English speaker, you're discriminating against English speakers. It's confusing, it's misleading, it's unfair.  'They should not be sacrificing academic integrity to recruit more foreign students.'

Universities UK, the body which represents all higher education institutions, warned that relaxing standards for overseas students could be damaging to academic excellence.

Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: 'International students are subject to numerous tests to ensure they meet high English language requirements.  'For overseas students to benefit from studying at a UK university, they need a high level of English so that they can complete written assessments and take part in discussions and seminars.

'It is in no one's interest for international students to come to the UK if they are unable to complete their studies because they are struggling with the language.'

Most of the institutions specify that students can only use a translation dictionary, between their own language and English, but some allow them to use regular dictionaries which contain words' definitions in English only.

Nearly all universities say that they check students' dictionaries to ensure that they do not contain any notes or additional material which could fuel suspicion of cheating.

Some only let students use dictionaries which are provided by exam invigilators, in a further attempt to stop students taking advantage of the policy to smuggle in crib sheets.

Universities have been keen to recruit as many students as possible from outside the EU because there is no cap on the level of fees they can charge.

Foreign students typically pay up to £14,000 a year for most courses, compared to a limit of £9,000 for students from the UK and other EU countries.

The Government requires overseas students to sit an English language test in order to qualify for a visa.  In addition, the most prestigious institutions have their own tougher language exam, which they say ensures that all students are completely fluent in English by the time they start their degree.

There is no official Government policy on the use of dictionaries in exams, because as autonomous institutions universities are free to set their own regulations in most areas.

The Quality Assessment Authority, which certifies degrees, says: 'Through inclusive design wherever possible, and through individual reasonable adjustments wherever required, assessment tasks [must] provide every student with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their achievement.'


Seven-year-old schoolchildren to be given new tests amid claims teachers 'depress' marks so they can hit improvement targets

Plans to reintroduce tests for seven-year-olds will stop teachers marking pupils down so that they can more easily hit improvement targets, a source has claimed.

Ministers are said to be considering national tests at Key Stage 1 which were abolished ten years ago because it was argued that they put too much pressure on pupils form a young age.

It's believed that Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, is thinking of re-introducing them to replace teachers assessments so they can better monitor progress through primary school.

The move has sparked fury among unions who have threatened more strikes if ministers do choose to go through with the proposals, reports the Times Educational Supplement.

The Department for Education wants to introduce the tests so it can better monitor progress of children who are supposed to improve by two levels between the end of year two - aged seven - and the end of primary school at 11, when they already have national exams.

A source told the TES that you can't measure progress accurately with teacher tests as there's an incentive to mark them down so they can more easily reach the levels of improvements they are judged on.

The source told the TES: 'The issue is that you can't measure progress accurately with teacher assessment, and there are incentives for schools to depress pupils' scores to show that progress is being made.'

They also want to publish the results and claim that the move would lighten the load for teachers, as they wouldn't have to do the individual assessments.

But unions say it would be a step too far and have claimed that the move would lead to more strikes after a number of walk-outs over controversial policies throughout the last parliament.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general of the NUT, told the TES that teachers have boycotted tests for children of that age before and re-introduction would lead to unions 'jointly taking steps to block these radical changes'.

Russell Hobby, general secretary for the NAHT, told Javier Espinoza from The Telegraph that pupils are already 'weighed down' by high stakes tests at increasingly young ages.

He said that children should have a broad education and not simply learn how to take tests as teachers strive to ready them from exams rather than concentrating on offering them a broad education.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: 'Tests have always been a part of assessment arrangements at Key Stage 1.

'We have already announced that tests to assess the new national curriculum are being developed, to be brought in from summer 2016, and schools will be informed of the arrangements for teacher assessment by September 2015.'


UK: Offensive to say Islamic dress is offensive

No sense of irony evident

A secondary school, where pupils are mainly Muslim, has called in police to investigate a ‘hate crime’ due to a Facebook posting criticising women publicly wearing Islamic veils.

A photo of three women in niqabs with the message ‘share if you find this offensive’ was seen on the Facebook page of a member of the school’s support staff and reported.

Headteacher Jen McIntosh immediately informed the police, who confirmed they are now making inquiries about the incident.

The head described the post as ‘tasteless and offensive,’ adding that the ‘appalling’ incident didn’t represent the ‘thoughts, feelings and actions’ of the school and its staff.

Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College in Bradford was last year linked to the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, where schools have allegedly been infiltrated by hard-line Muslims, and the head faced accusations today that she had overreacted.

The Facebook post originated from Britain First – the right wing political movement reportedly founded by a former member of the British Nationalist Party – and was allegedly shared by Angie Dunn, a non-teaching member of staff at the Bradford comprehensive.

However, police are also looking into a complaint from Ms Dunn that her Facebook account was maliciously hacked.

The secondary school has around 1,000 pupils aged from 11 to 18.   According to a recent Ofsted report the ‘vast majority of students are from minority ethnic backgrounds and speak English as an additional language.’

When news of the anti-Islamic social media photo spread through the school it clearly provoked anger amongst pupils and parents demanding action.

Mrs McIntosh, the headteacher, said: ‘We have dealt with this matter swiftly and informed the police right away. It will now be investigated in the proper way and will be dealt with accordingly.  We will not allow any isolated incident to distract from our focus on delivering a high quality education to all our students, as a welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment for the whole community.’

In a letter to parents, she added: ‘You may be aware of the tasteless and offensive Facebook post regarding the hijab allegedly posted by a member of staff.

‘This appalling action in no way represents the thoughts, feelings or actions of Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College and the 207 other individuals who work here.  ‘Prejudice and racism in any form is not acceptable in or out of our college and any such behaviour is taken very seriously. That is why the matter has been reported to the police for investigation as a hate crime.’

A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said they were contacted on Wednesday morning by a member of staff at the school ‘about an inappropriate picture which had been shared on their social media page.’ He said: ‘Enquiries are continuing into this matter.’

Councillor Mohammed Shafiq said he had ten calls in an hour from worried parents.  He said: ‘I’m pleased that the school has launched a full investigation to look into this matter and the priority remains the education of our children.’

While Brian Morris, a local UKIP councillor, warned of an overreaction.  He said: ‘It's the times we live in unfortunately. No matter how the post was meant to be seen, people will take it as offensive even if that wasn't the intention.

‘There are people out there looking for problems and the slightest little thing they can get hold of they will. People will twist things and make a bigger issue out of it.’

Councillor Susan Hinchclifffe, Bradford Council’s executive member for schools, said the authority would ‘not tolerate any instance of prejudice, in any shape or form.’

It is not known if any action has been taken against Ms Dunn, a member of the learning support staff.

Laisterdyke hit the headlines in April last year when the governors were removed following a critical Ofsted report and concerns raised by the council. They were accused of undermining the head and interfering in the day-to-day running of the school.

It was revealed how teachers had previously been suspended after clashing with governors who wanted to model the school on the academy in Birmingham at the centre of the 'Trojan Horse' allegations.


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