To EAP or not to EAP: IELTS is the question

Year: 2013

Author: Montes, Catherine, McCluskey, Kerryn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

  Globalisation and internationalisation of education processes are having a profound effect on the cultural composition of the tertiary education landscape in Australia.  An important segment of the market for international education is comprised of Chinese students whose access to tertiary study is facilitated via articulation, or ‘2+2' programmes through their universities in China.  Learning English has become serious business in China in terms of serving political and economic agendas as well as opening up study and work opportunities for individuals both domestically and abroad (Hu, 2001).  However, proficiency in English academic written discourse is of particular concern as research and anecdotal evidence suggests that this is an area where Chinese students continue to struggle (Bretag et al., 2002; Sawir 2005).  Providing suitable language support to international students across a wide spectrum of cultures is thus a key aspect of the successful internationalisation of Australian universities. 
In this paper, I present qualitative data from a group of eight Chinese students in their first year of undergraduate study in Australia as well as six English language teaching professionals working in Chinese tertiary settings. As ‘2+2' students most of the participants were required to undertake English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses prior to arrival in order to prepare for the transition to a new academic culture. A thematic analysis of the data supported the idea that in the Chinese internationalisation context, as it relates to articulation programmes, there was the potential for conflict between the EAP field of the language support mechanism and the IELTS field of the gatekeeper mechanism.  This conflict was sustained by specific discourses related to learning English academic writing in the Chinese context, which were manifested in students' behaviour as well as teacher pedagogy.  In light of this, this paper discusses and questions the notion of language support as it applies to this cohort of students. The findings of this study suggest that internationalisation of education processes in China may not meet the needs of many Chinese students who decide to study abroad.  As a consequence, many of these students arrive in Australia only to encounter an academic playing field which is far from level in comparison to their Australian counterparts.