Teaching international students: Supporting lecturers in their work with students whose first language is not English.

  • Northcott, Jill (Co-investigator)
  • Benson, Cathy (Co-investigator)
  • Knox, Lindsay (Co-investigator)

Project Details


The overall aim of the research is to explore Edinburgh University lecturers’ perceptions of working with those international students whose first language is not English, with the goal of strengthening and expanding the support for academic staff in their work with these students. Staff development workshops are provided by several organisations across the university, but the particular focus of this research project is generating findings which will inform the development of workshops which focus on helping staff address the linguistic needs of international students whose first language is not English, be this in lectures, seminars, teaching materials or giving feedback to students on their assignments.
The study will use questionnaires and interviews to explore lecturers’ perceptions of the challenges, benefits, strategies and their professional development needs, with regard to working in an international teaching environment with students from different language backgrounds. It is envisaged that there will be practical outcomes of this project:
 a wider series of workshops offering need-driven and focused support for university academic staff in working with the linguistic needs of international students whose first language is not English, and providing feedback to these students which addresses their particular learning needs
 the possibility of developing School-based, targeted provision of support for academic staff which addresses needs and demand specific to individual Scho

Key findings

The quantitative results seem to be reflected in the more open-ended qualitative findings. The main benefits of working with IS at the University was perceived to be the diversity of the learning environment and the opportunity to share this diversity in the learning experience. One of the greatest challenges was perceived to be the difficulties with academic English of international students, particularly academic writing. However, students whose first language was English were not immune to criticism in this area. The other main challenge was managing the different expectations of international students. The largest open-ended response provided numerous suggestions of how staff addressed these challenges, from adapting their teaching methods, providing additional one-to-one support, encouraging more active participation in seminars, to referring to additional linguistic support.
When asked what kind of seminars staff would be interested in attending to help them to address the challenges, understanding other countries’ teaching environment and sharing of good practice scored highly. However, there was a strong tide of opinion that seemed to view the many ‘solutions’ to the ‘problems’, specifically of linguistic proficiency, as being the responsibility of academic support services. Support for students whose first language was English was also seen as necessary in some cases.
Further comments seemed to express the view that teaching staff were trying their best to accommodate international students. However, other areas of the university, specifically through its admissions policy, also influence the type of students admitted. Other areas of the university also have a responsibility to help support international students. For example, the view was often offered that if students with ‘lower’ English language and/or academic qualification were allowed entry into the university, it was the university’s responsibility to provide them with appropriate academic writing support specifically.
The major limitations of the research include the lack of responses from one of the three Colleges. We received only one response from CMVM. Moreover, the largest number of questionnaire responses and all five post-survey interviews were from CHSS. It is, therefore, not possible for us to claim that this is a complete picture of academic staff views across the university. The views expressed regarding working with IS, however, resonate with similar research conducted in other UK universities, whether traditional or post-1992 (for an example of the latter, see Barron, Gourlay & Gannon-Leary 2010).
Effective start/end date31/10/1430/11/16


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.