Most graduates will never pay off their student loans

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Andrew Gunn, University of Leeds

New finding show that more than 70% of students who left university last year are never expected to finish repaying their loans. The report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that many of these graduates – the first cohort to pay the higher £9,000 fees – will be making repayments for 30 years. This means that a large number of graduates will be paying back their loans well into their 50s – and a growing proportion of the money lent out will never be repaid.

This is because, under the current system in England, when graduates earn over £21,000 they start making repayments of 9% of their salary above that threshold. And if the loan isn’t repaid within 30 years, the outstanding balance is written off.

These new findings add to concerns the current policy of lending large sums to students to pay for their degree – rather than funding universities directly – is not sustainable over the long-term. There have been calls by members of the Conservative party for a rethink over fees policy – and some have suggested that the end of tuition fees could be on the horizon.

The political debate

Student fees were already back on the agenda as a result of the recent election after Labour took the lion’s share of student votes with their promise of wiping out tuition fees altogether.

Analysis by YouGov has also shown that the electorate is deeply divided by age and level of education: younger and more educated people were found to be less likely to vote Conservative. Understandably, the Conservative party is now concerned it could cost them an election in future.

A high turnout among young voters boosted Labour’s vote share.
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This has led to Damien Green, the first secretary of state – and effectively Theresa May’s deputy – saying that a “national debate” on student fees may be needed. Green also added that the Conservatives will have to “change hard” to entice young educated voters away from Labour.

In response, universities minister Jo Johnson is doubling down on current policy, arguing disadvantaged young people are now 43% more likely to go to university than in 2010 and that abolishing tuition fees would cost taxpayers an additional £100bn by 2025. He also points to the fact that many loans are not fully repaid, which he argues shows the government is subsiding the lowest-earning graduates.

The realities of fees and funding

What Johnson says is correct, there has been a big increase in the number of disadvantaged students going to university. But one of the main reasons for this is because at the same time as increasing fees, the government also sought to remove the “cap” on student numbers – so there is no longer a limit to the total number of places on offer.

Prior to the cap being removed in England, undergraduate education was paid for through taxes – as is still the case in Scotland – meaning the number of places had to be capped because the government only has so much money to spend.

So removing the cap in England has enabled universities to make more offers to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This has been mainly through “contextual admissions” – which is where information including school performance data and socioeconomic markers are used to provide background to an application.

Indebted graduates

The proportion of young people entering undergraduate education has grown massively over time (student numbers have almost doubled since 1992) meaning those educated at university are no longer considered to be an “elite” group. In real terms this means that, as a group of voters, the student population expands every year – making them more influential. This is not just an electorate with more graduates, but one with more indebted graduates.

Last year maintenance grants were replaced with maintenance loans – which has increased student borrowing further. And, as the IFS report shows, this decision means students from the poorest backgrounds will now have debts of on average £57,000 after a three-year degree – as these students will need to take out the maximum loan amount.

Then there is also the issue of the interest rate charged on the loans and how much graduates earn before they start paying it back. In recent years students have taken on ever-larger loans – and this, combined with rising interest rates, is making it more expensive for graduates and undermining confidence in the system. As the IFS reports, this has hit poorer students and middle-earning graduates the hardest.

Smile, despite that debt.
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Despite this, the policy on fees isn’t about to change just yet. The Conservatives are currently occupied with dealing with consequences of some their more unpopular policies – such as abandoning the creation of new grammar schools and considering what to do with their proposals for technical education.

The ConversationBut sooner or later the Conservatives will need to produce another manifesto. And the current debate, along with lessons learnt from the last election, may mean they revise their electoral offer to students and graduates – as all political parties look to adjust to this new electoral reality.

Andrew Gunn, Researcher in Higher Education Policy, University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Don’t fear British sarcasm – and other advice for overseas postgrads


Moving countries for a degree is a formidable challenge but it’s immensely rewarding. Here are some lessons I learned

Students outside university building

‘I was warned that the British are stand-offish, prim and take offence at the slightest social misstep.’ Photograph: University of Glasgow

In my year group as a postgraduate, I saw half of the non-UK students drop out. This far exceeded the class’s drop-out rate for UK students. It helps put into context the scale of the challenges that international students face in coming to the UK to do a postgrad degree. Having recently faced those challenges myself, I have some advice.

Making friends is easier than you think

As I prepared to emigrate to the UK, I was repeatedly warned that the British are standoffish, prim and take offence at the slightest social misstep. These cautionary tales were reinforced by funny articles insisting that the British use words to say the opposite of what they mean. As a result, I remained silent and petrified during my first few months.

It’s best to dispel this ridiculous stereotype at once. This is not to say that every Briton wants to be your best friend, but neither are they likely to murder you for adding both lemon and milk to your tea. (They may do for queue jumping, though.)

That said, you might find it helpful to befriend fellow non-UK postgrads, as they are probably in a similar situation and equally eager to make new friends. Some postgraduate programmes actively support such connections by running mentorship programmes.

Don’t blame yourself

Unless you are superhuman, the going will get tough. Completing a master’s or PhD is a gargantuan task under the best of circumstances. You will have to manage everything involved in settling in the UK: keeping up with immigration bureaucracy; finding somewhere to live; opening a bank account; registering with the NHS; arranging travel cards for public transport; maybe managing a language barrier; probably hunting for and holding down a part-time job. If you are self-funded at the overseas rate, you will also be burdened by the knowledge that you are paying an enormous amount for your degree.

It is perfectly natural, even unavoidable, that at times you will feel overwhelmed, anxious and even depressed. Talk to your international colleagues and you will likely discover that they share your anxieties.

You have much to learn, but still more to teach

One of the big differences between international students who pursue an undergraduate degree in the UK, and those who come for the first time to do a postgraduate degree, is their starting position. Every undergrad knows nothing about higher education, and their degrees are structured and paced accordingly. This is not the case for postgraduate degrees. You may well find yourself envious of students who have studied in this system before, who know the inside track and might even be on a first-name basis with staff.

Be prepared to unlearn some habits you acquired at your home institution, and to adopt some of the unfamiliar ways of UK universities. But don’t abandon your academic background entirely. I often found I had the advantage of a fresh perspective or a rare piece of knowledge. So don’t be afraid to speak up.

Plan ahead for your career

There are different steps you should take during your postgraduate studies, depending on whether you intend to return to your country of origin or stay on in the UK to work. Either way, planning ahead is crucial.

If you intend to return, you should maintain professional as well as social ties with your home country. These include presenting at conferences back home, and returning for work experience or internships. You may not feel it yet, but postgraduate studies in the UK can earn you a fair amount of respect.

If you intend to stay, cement connections with contacts in the UK. On top of all that, make sure you research the UK immigration rules that apply to your country of origin. If you come from a country outside the EU or commonwealth, staying in the UK might prove difficult. Many graduate-level jobs can be too poorly paid to sponsor work visas.

Finally, allow yourself a moment of pride for making a courageous decision. For an international student, completing a UK postgrad degree is a formidable challenge, but it is immensely rewarding. It will, quite simply, change your life. How and in what way is largely up to you.

Follow Guardian Students on Twitter: @GdnStudents. For graduate career opportunities, take a look at Guardian Jobs.

Original article (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jul/22/advice-overseas-postgrads-university-higher-education)

 

 

‘Staying silent now is a really bad idea’


TheWhiteHouse TrumpTheresaweb

July 2017 (EL Gazette)

International students are ‘upset’ about US and UK immigration policies and could head elsewhere if universities fail to show their friendly side, a survey suggests.

The findings reveal that ‘unwelcoming’ foreign policies are changing students’ perceptions – and possibly decisions – even when they don’t directly affect them.

‘International students are registering their distaste,’ said Ben Waxman, chief executive of Intead, one of the two student-marketing companies behind the research.

‘They are asking, “Why are you closing your doors to internationalisation?”’

The survey, conducted in February by Intead and FPPEDU Media and presented last month, received responses from over 57,400 prospective international students.

Many of those in non-EU countries said they were less likely to study in the UK because of Brexit. This included 43 per cent of respondents from India and 39 per cent from Nigeria – the fifth- and sixth-largest source markets for the UK higher education sector.

As for the US, the election of Donald Trump seems to be making some students think twice. About 60 per cent of respondents from Brazil said they were less likely to study in the US – up from 49 per cent when the same question was asked before the 2016 presidential elections.

But the percentage of Mexican students who said they would not study in the US has actually fallen, from 80 per cent in 2016 to 61 per cent this year.

Similar percentages of all students surveyed said they would be less likely to choose the US as a study destination due to the US government’s travel policies. A total of 59 per cent of UK students said they would be less likely to study in the US for this reason.

The picture is quite grim, but how likely are students to follow through?

Trump numbers

International students are ‘upset’ about US and UK immigration policies and could head elsewhere if universities fail to show their friendly side, a survey suggests.

The findings reveal that ‘unwelcoming’ foreign policies are changing students’ perceptions – and possibly decisions – even when they don’t directly affect them.

‘International students are registering their distaste,’ said Ben Waxman, chief executive of Intead, one of the two student-marketing companies behind the research.

‘They are asking, “Why are you closing your doors to internationalisation?”’

The survey, conducted in February by Intead and FPPEDU Media and presented last month, received responses from over 57,400 prospective international students.

Many of those in non-EU countries said they were less likely to study in the UK because of Brexit. This included 43 per cent of respondents from India and 39 per cent from Nigeria – the fifth- and sixth-largest source markets for the UK higher education sector.

As for the US, the election of Donald Trump seems to be making some students think twice. About 60 per cent of respondents from Brazil said they were less likely to study in the US – up from 49 per cent when the same question was asked before the 2016 presidential elections.

But the percentage of Mexican students who said they would not study in the US has actually fallen, from 80 per cent in 2016 to 61 per cent this year.

Similar percentages of all students surveyed said they would be less likely to choose the US as a study destination due to the US government’s travel policies. A total of 59 per cent of UK students said they would be less likely to study in the US for this reason.

The picture is quite grim, but how likely are students to follow through?


Refugees welcome? How UK and Sweden compare on education for young migrants

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Joanna McIntyre, University of Nottingham

In the UK, the world’s fifth richest economy, vulnerable children are being denied education. Asylum seekers and refugee children are struggling to access education – and unable to attend school or college. This contravenes rights to equal educational access in accordance with international human rights law.

I’m currently working on research projects about child refugees, one of which compares experiences of children in the UK with those arriving in Sweden – and I am concerned that the UK education system is not currently fit for purpose or able to provide adequate schooling for every child.

The fact of the matter is that refugee children should be resettled in the UK. It is quite simply the right thing to do for obvious humanitarian reasons. As Ghandi observed:

The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.

Lessons should be learned from countries such as Sweden, where more inclusive practices are already in place. It should also be considered how education policies and practices are working against schools and teachers who want to welcome refugees but who are unable to.

Hassan’s story

Take Hassan, he’s 15 and Iranian, and I met him at an arts workshop for recently arrived child refugees in the UK. Hassan had been in the UK for four months and did not yet have a school place.

His age is the first barrier when it comes to an education. This is because Hassan should be in year 11 – GCSE year – which means a school could be reluctant to take him because he is unlikely to have sufficient preparation time for exams.

Teachers are also under massive amounts of pressure to deliver outcomes to boost their school’s progress scores and performance in league tables. And new arrivals such as Hassan – regardless of their prior attainment and experience – are unlikely to be able to adjust to the English school culture and absorb the content and skills required to pass high stakes examinations in the remaining months of year 11.

Are refugees really welcome?
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The second barrier is language. When we met, Hassan had a friend translating. And until he has a school place, Hassan will be reliant on the support of volunteer groups for English language lessons.

There is another practical barrier, too – Hassan had a letter from his local authority (which he carries with him) saying there are three potential schools for him. But none are near Hassan’s home, and two of the schools are two bus rides away.

Navigating the system

If Hassan isn’t successful in finding a school place in 40 days, his case will appear before what’s known as a Fair Access Panel. This will allocate a place to Hassan and there will be a further period of time when the school can appeal this decision.

Should he find a place, the school, undoubtedly worried about balancing budgets and managing limited resources, will decide which class to put him in, which subjects, and which sets. He might also attend an intervention programme to develop his English and help him access the curriculum, but such places are limited.

Language training for refugees.
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More likely, Hassan will be placed in a mainstream classroom and given in-house language support – which will mean withdrawal from some lessons. He will probably also be placed in lower sets because his English will mask his real ability.

These decisions will have short, and maybe, longer term implications for Hassan’s prospects and for the friendship groups he develops.

The Swedish way

But until Hassan gets a school place, he is stuck. He reached the UK but is unable to begin making a new life because he cannot access the support the education system should be able to offer him. And if this is still the case after the age of 16, his experiences are likely to be worse because places in post 16 provision are often even more limited.

But had Hassan landed in Sweden, he and his family would access two hours daily of Swedish language tuition – as part of their residence permit. In school, Hassan would also receive two hours teaching per week in his home language.

This reflects research which shows that when it comes to language learning, a bilingual environment is most successful. This means a child’s first language is continued to enable them to learn a second or third language more quickly.

In Sweden, Hassan’s local school would also commit to enrol him as quickly as possible. Often within a fortnight of arriving in the country.

Not just another brick in the wall.
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Like Sweden, schools in the UK should also be inclusive spaces that offer education for all rather than just for league tables. This is important because young refugees are likely to complete their education in their new country – becoming full members of their “post-settlement” society.

The ConversationSo instead of restricting access to education, the UK should instead recognise the potential of these children and welcome them in its schools as they begin their new lives.

Joanna McIntyre, Associate Professor of Education, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


English language bar for citizenship likely to further disadvantage refugees

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has proposed tougher language requirements for new citizenship applicants.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Sally Baker, University of Newcastle and Rachel Burke, University of Newcastle

Citizenship applicants will need to demonstrate a higher level of English proficiency if the government’s proposed changes to the Australian citizenship test go ahead.

Applicants will be required to reach the equivalent of Band 6 proficiency of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

To achieve Band 6, applicants must correctly answer 30 out of 40 questions in the reading paper, 23 out of 40 in the listening paper, and the writing paper rewards language used “accurately and appropriately”. If a candidate’s writing has “frequent” inaccuracies in grammar and spelling, they cannot achieve Band 6

Success in IELTS requires proficiency in both the English language, and also understanding how to take – and pass – a test. The proposed changes will then make it harder for people with fragmented educational backgrounds to become citizens, such as many refugees.

How do the tests currently work?

The current citizenship test consists of 20 multiple-choice questions in English concerning Australia’s political system, history, and citizen responsibilities.

While the test does not require demonstration of English proficiency per se, it acts as an indirect assessment of language.

For example, the question: “Which official symbol of Australia identifies Commonwealth property?” demonstrates the level of linguistic complexity required.

The IELTS test is commonly taken for immigration purposes as a requirement for certain visa categories; however, the designer of IELTS argues that IELTS was never designed for this purpose. Researchers have argued that the growing strength of English as the language of politics and economics has resulted in its widespread use for immigration purposes.

Impact of proposed changes

English is undoubtedly important for participation in society, but deciding citizenship based on a high-stakes language test could further marginalise community members, such as people with refugee backgrounds who have the greatest need for citizenship, yet lack the formal educational background to navigate such tests.

The Refugee Council of Australia argues that adults with refugee backgrounds will be hardest hit by the proposed language test.

Data shows that refugees are both more likely to apply for citizenship, and twice as likely as other migrant groups to have to retake the test.

Mismatched proficiency expectations

The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), where many adult refugees access English learning upon arrival, expects only a “functional” level of language proficiency.

For many adult refugees – who have minimal first language literacy, fragmented educational experiences, and limited opportunities to gain feedback on their written English – “competency” may be prohibitive to gaining citizenship. This is also more likely to impact refugee women, who are less likely to have had formal schooling and more likely to assume caring duties.

Bar too high?

The challenges faced in re/settlement contexts, such as pressures of work and financial responsibilities to extended family, often combine to make learning a language difficult, and by extension,
prevent refugees from completing the citizenship test.

Similar patterns are evident with IELTS. Nearly half of Arabic speakers who took the IELTS in 2015 scored lower than Band 6.

There are a number of questions to clarify regarding the proposed language proficiency test:

  • Will those dealing with trauma-related experiences gain exemption from a high-stakes, time-pressured examination?
  • What support mechanisms will be provided to assist applicants to study for the test?
  • Will financially-disadvantaged members of the community be expected to pay for classes/ materials in order to prepare for the citizenship test?
  • The IELTS test costs A$330, with no subsidies available. Will the IELTS-based citizenship/ language test attract similar fees?

There are also questions about the fairness of requiring applicants to demonstrate a specific type and level of English under examination conditions that is not required of all citizens. Those born in Australia are not required to pass an academic test of language in order to retain their citizenship.

Recognising diversity of experiences

There are a few things the government should consider before introducing a language test:

1) Community consultation is essential. Input from community/ migrant groups, educators, and language assessment specialists will ensure the test functions as a valid evaluation of progression towards English language proficiency. The government is currently calling for submissions related to the new citizenship test.

2) Design the test to value different forms and varieties of English that demonstrate progression in learning rather than adherence to prescriptive standards.

3) Provide educational opportunities that build on existing linguistic strengths that help people to prepare for the test.

The ConversationEquating a particular type of language proficiency with a commitment to Australian citizenship is a complex and ideologically-loaded notion. The government must engage in careful consideration before potentially further disadvantaging those most in need of citizenship.

Sally Baker, Research Associate, Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education, University of Newcastle and Rachel Burke, Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


English has taken over academia: but the real culprit is not linguistic

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In academia, you’ll need to.
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Anna Kristina Hultgren, The Open University and Elizabeth J. Erling, The Open University

Not only is April 23 the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, but the UN has chosen it as UN English Language Day in tribute to the Bard.

If growth in the number of speakers is a measure of success, then the English language certainly deserves to be celebrated. Since the end of World War I, it has risen to become the language with the highest number of non-native users in the world and is the most frequently used language among people who don’t share the same language in business, politics and academia.

In universities in countries where English is not the official language, English is increasingly used as a medium of instruction and is often the preferred language for academics in which to publish their research.

In Europe alone, the number of undergraduate and masters programmes fully taught in English grew from 2,389 in 2007 to 8,089 in 2014 – a 239% increase.

In academic publishing, the use of English has a longer history, especially in the sciences. In 1880, only 36% of publications were in English. It had risen to 50% in 1940-50, 75% in 1980 and 91% in 1996, with the numbers for social sciences and humanities slightly lower.

Today, the proportion of academic articles in the Nordic countries which are published in English is between 70% and 95%, and for doctoral dissertations it’s 80% to 90%.

Pros and cons of using English

One frequently cited advantage of publishing in English is that academics can reach a wider audience and also engage in work produced outside of their own language community. This facilitates international collaboration and, at least ideally, strengthens and validates research. In teaching, using English enables the mobility of staff and students and makes it possible for students to study abroad and get input from other cultures. It also helps develop language skills and intercultural awareness.

But some downsides have been identified. In the Nordic countries, for example, the national language councils have expressed concerns at the lack of use of national languages in academia. They’ve argued that this may impoverish these languages, making it impossible to communicate about scientific issues in Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Icelandic. There has also been fears that the quality of education taking place in English is lower because it may be harder to express oneself in a non-native language. And there are concerns about the creation of inequalities between those who speak English well and those who don’t – though this may begin to change.

Research suggests a more nuanced picture. National languages are still being used in academia and are no more threatened here than in other domains. Both teachers and students have been shown to adapt, drawing on strategies and resources that compensate for any perceived loss of learning. The ability to cope with education in a non-native language depends on a number of factors, such as level of English proficiency – which varies significantly across the world.

English built into the system

Some solutions to these problems have focused on devising language policies which are meant to safeguard local languages. For instance, many Nordic universities have adopted a “parallel language policy”, which accords equal status to English and to the national language (or languages, in the case of Finland, which has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish). While such initiatives may serve important symbolic functions, research suggests that they are unlikely to be effective in the long run.

Learning in Oslo – but in what language?
AstridWestvang/flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND

This is because the underlying causes of these dramatic changes that are happening in academia worldwide are not simply linguistic, but political and economic. A push for competition in higher education has increased the use of research performance indicators and international bench-marking systems that measure universities against each other.

This competitive marketplace means academics are encouraged to publish their articles in high-ranking journals – in effect this means English-language journals. Many ranking lists also measure universities on their degree of internationalisation, which tends to be interpreted rather simplistically as the ratio of international to domestic staff and students. Turning education into a commodity and charging higher tuition fees for overseas students also makes it more appealing for universities to attract international students. This all indirectly leads to a rise in the use of English: a shared language is necessary for such transnational activities to work.

The ConversationThe rise of English in academia is only a symptom of this competition. If the linguistic imbalance is to be redressed, then this must start with confronting the problem of a university system which has elevated competition and performance indicators to its key organising principle, in teaching as well as research.

Anna Kristina Hultgren, Lecturer in English Language and Applied Linguistics, The Open University and Elizabeth J. Erling, Lecturer of English Language Teaching , The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.