Ways with writing: international students’ perspectives on responding to academic writing requirements in the UK higher education
In recent years in the UK, higher education issues related to academic writing support have attracted much attention from both practitioners and researchers, and subsequently writing support provision has become one of the very vivid areas of research in UK academia. In many ways, the research has focused on the understanding of the nature of academic writing as well as needs and expectations held by key stakeholders, i.e. students who are required to write various academic texts for assessment and academics who assign and then evaluate these texts. This chapter brings into the debate the voices of international students by presenting their perspectives on the support they receive, the academic requirements they have to meet and their own engagement in learning to write academically approved texts. The international students in this chapter are students who come either from overseas or from European Union countries and who aspire to pursue their masters degrees in UK universities. The discussion draws on ﬁndings from a study that investigated the academic writing development of international students on an International Pre-Masters Programme (IPP) at one of the highly sought-after universities in central London. The research was conducted in the academic year of 2009/10. The students who participated in the research were of various levels of English language proﬁciency; usually between 5.5 and 6.0 IELTS score. The interview data provided by these students indicate that currently prevailing writing support, focused on surface text features and grammatical accuracy, helps them to understand basic differences between writing in different cultural contexts but does not provide sufﬁcient guidance while writing for academic disciplines at university in the UK. Interviews with students further revealed that while composing their assignments, students engaged in discipline-speciﬁc literacy activities and created social networks that helped them to participate critically in their chosen ﬁeld of study, and consequently allowed them to respond successfully to writing requirements. As such, the students’ accounts raise questions about the assumptions underpinning 1) academic writing support in UK higher education, and 2) international students’ needs as far as responding to academic writing requirements are concerned. Learning from students’ experience can help
not only improve academic writing support, but most of all present international students as active agents in their efforts to excel in academic writing in English.