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International students


According to Australian Education International (AEI), in 2012 there were just over 500,000 full fee-paying students across all Australian educational sectors, with over 150,000 of them undertaking university studies (AEI, 2012). This is an important change to the profile of the student population. Not surprisingly, it has raised a number of educational issues and challenges for staff. This information is intended as a resource for academic staff as they face these issues and challenges.  


Living and studying in another culture

Research has shown that a high percentage of students studying 'across cultures' experience difficulties with: socio-cultural adjustment, language, and educational expectations and norms.  

Social-cultural adjustment

Living in a new culture can be a very isolating experience. International students face similar problems to Australian students (finances, accommodation, relationships and academic progress) but they may not have easy access to resources and support to assist them in solving these problems. Furthermore, they often experience feelings of isolation, homesickness and 'culture shock' during their time here and many also face language problems. Many of these factors affect the academic life and progress of international students.  


Most international students are learning in a language that is not their first language. Although they will have taken an English language test (for example, International English Language Test System or IELTS) prior to acceptance into most courses, most take time to adjust to the Australian accent and the style of speech used in lectures and tutorials. They may compensate for language difficulties by spending long hours studying outside of class time - this in itself limits the amount of time they have available to mix socially with other students and develop their oral language skills. International students often comment that lecturers speak too fast and use idiom and abbreviations not familiar to them. Like Australian students, they may not always want to seek help, preferring to work long hours on their essays and assignments before seeking assistance from their lecturers or L3 advisers in the Language, Literacies and Learning team from the Learning and Teaching Unit.  

Educational expectations

Many of our educational expectations are culture bound. We value certain things - these are the qualities we see good students as having. In Australia, skills such as autonomous learning, critical thinking, confidence in communication and problem solving are highly valued by teachers and lecturers. They are therefore both expected and rewarded. However, many international students in Australia come from Confucian heritage backgrounds which traditionally emphasise the value of knowledge and respect for those who preserve and teach it. In this cultural climate, 'good' students do not openly question the point of view of their teacher or argue alternative points of view. The students who are accepted into our courses are selected in part on their previous academic record - so they are 'good students' in their home countries. It takes time for students from Confucian-heritage backgrounds, with these expectations, to adjust to Australian expectations of them as students. They may be asked to work independently (rather than being directed by their respected teacher and expert in the field) and to challenge and critically evaluate the information that is presented to them (how dare they challenge the teachings of their respected teacher and expert in their field!?) In Australia, students may be expected to locate and analyse information in order to solve a range of professional and academic problems. But Confucian-heritage students may expect the teacher to be 'the sage on the stage' (as opposed to the 'guide on the side'). How can we help students in this situation? Firstly, we can make our norms and expectations, and the rationale behind these, absolutely clear from the beginning, and take nothing for granted. We can repeat them often, in different ways, verbally and in writing. We can be patient and give students time to adjust to their new role as students in an Australian university. And we can be forgiving when students forget what is expected of them in this role. There may be times, though, when more is needed and the University provides a range of services for students from diverse cultural backgrounds.  


Services and assistance for EAL and international students

A number of policies, procedures and services have been put in place at UniSA to assist students to overcome many of the difficulties mentioned above.  

Social-cultural adjustment

International Student Officers in the Learning and Teaching Unit organise workshops and provide resources and publications to support international students from the time they accept an offer until the time they graduate from UniSA. Services provided include:

For further details about these and other services contact the International Student Officer on your campus.  


A range of 1:1 and group language and study skill development programs designed specifically for EAL and international students are available through the Learning and Teaching Unit on each Campus. On each campus L3 advisers in the Language, Literacies and Learning team, Counsellors and International Student Officers are available to assist students. Services and resources are responsive to student need and demand. Details of services and resources are available from the Learning and Teaching Unit web site and from the Learning and Teaching Unit office on each city campus.  

Educational expectations

The Learning and Teaching Unit employs Academic Developers, Learning Advisers and International Student Officers who work with staff to help them understand the needs of students and with students who are having difficulty understanding the expectations of their lecturers and tutors. These LTU services are located on each city campus of the University in the Learning and Teaching Unit and are often able to provide a useful bridge between staff and students.  

The preparation and delivery of student workshops and resources around the expectations of particular assessment items in specific courses and discipline areas are often negotiated under the Service Agreement that each Division has with the Learning and Teaching Unit. If you are interested in this type of service contact your nearest Learning and Teaching Unit office to discuss the possibilities.  


Teaching international students: practical advice

This guide outlines strategies for accommodating international students' needs in our teaching. Many of them are basic principles of good teaching that will benefit all students. Biggs (1997) identifies three main areas on which university teachers should focus to improve the quality of teaching and learning for students from all educational and cultural backgrounds. Clanchy and Ballard (1997) identify a number of strategies to assist international students in particular. The following is a combination of strategies suggested by the findings of both authors. They are general teaching strategies, which can be used effectively in most subject areas.  

Strategies for communicating content

General strategies:

In all communications:

When presenting content in lectures or tutorials to small or large groups:

Strategies for communicating expectations in relation to:

Participating in discussions, practicum placements, laboratory work and tutorials:

Thinking critically:

The students' role:

Your availability:

Teaching strategies to maximise appropriate student activity

Asking questions:

Getting a cross-cultural perspective:

Getting students to participate in small group discussions:

Assessment tasks and strategies

Setting assessment criteria


Where to go for assistance

Assistance in tailoring these strategies to your particular teaching situation is available from the Learning and Teaching Unit team located on each campus. If you would like to make an appointment for an individual consultation in the area of working with international and EAL students, contact the Learning and Teaching Unit on your campus.  



Ballard, B. & Clanchy, J. (1997). Teaching international students: a brief guide for lecturers and supervisors. Deakin: IDP Education Australia.  

Biggs, J. (1997). 'Teaching across and within cultures: the issue of international students'. In Learning and teaching in higher education: advancing international perspectives. Proceedings of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference, 8-11 July 1997, pp. 1-22.  

Australian Education International (2012) International student numbers. Retrieved from https://aei.gov.au/research/International-Student-Data/Pages/InternationalStudentData2012.aspx

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