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Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre

Working with International Students: a Guide for Staff in Engineering

This guide is for those who work with international students on mainstream undergraduate and taught postgraduate engineering courses. It will be useful to those who want to:

  • learn about cultural diversity in approaches to learning;
  • find out how colleagues address commonly experienced situations;
  • revisit their own assumptions and teaching practices.

The approach this guide takes to internationalisation in Higher Education values the diversity that international students bring and seeks to promote teaching where all students can participate and learn effectively.

This guide does not attempt to solve “problem behaviours” or to offer ways to assimilate international students into a UK way of thinking. Both aims would reflect a deficit model which unfairly places the student “at fault” and fails to respect alternative perspectives.

At the same time, it does address commonly experienced frustrations and situations where cultural difference can give rise to misunderstandings. In a range of teaching contexts, there are usually small steps that can be taken to promote intercultural understanding and effective learning.

In the guide you will find:

  • a consideration of the relationship between culture and learning;
  • examples of strategies that academics have found successful in teaching a diverse range of students;
  • suggestions for further reading.

The guide is written in conjunction with the “Teaching International Students Project” (TIS), a joint initiative of the Higher Education Academy and the United Kingdom Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) with funding from the Prime Minister’s Initiative 2 (PMI2). The project focuses on the ways that lecturers and other teaching staff can maintain and improve the quality of teaching and learning for international students.

The TIS website can be accessed at:

The website is for teachers in higher education looking for ideas and resources for teaching international students. By ‘teachers’ it is meant all those engaged in teaching (lecturers, tutors etc.); by ‘international students’ it is meant students who have travelled to another country for tertiary study (now almost one in five of the UK university student population).

Contact the Teaching International Students project team at:

Author biographies

Dr Rachel Scudamore is an educational developer, with a background in the biological sciences. As Course Director for the University of Nottingham’s Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, she led the adaptation of the PGCHE for the University’s campus in Malaysia, and has taught the international academic staff both on the Malaysia campus and via videoconferencing from England. A recent online publication Learning from Internationalisation explores the professional development of staff at the University in relation to the internationalisation of higher education. Rachel holds the post of Director of PESL (Promoting Enhanced Student Learning initiative) at the University of Nottingham, and is also a freelance educational consultant.

Dr Kay Bond is an engineering design lecturer, with 15 years teaching experience at the University of Nottingham and a post 1992 university, both of which have significant numbers of international students. More recently, Kay has developed the 2+2 engineering courses for delivery at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China campus; these courses are in their second year and the first cohort is due to arrive in Nottingham in September 2010. The post of Engineering Curriculum Development Manager allows Kay to explore opportunities for the faculty both at home and overseas in terms of improving existing courses and developing new ones.

Copyright © 2010 Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre. All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-904804-99-4 (print) ISBN 978-1-907632-10-5 (online)

1 comment

Mike Smith wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

Working in a second language

In a unit which teaches several postgraduate students from overseas, we tried leaving a notebook just outside a classroom. This technique generally worked well. Students were invited to write in the book any words, abbreviations or concepts that they did not understand clearly. Staff then provided written explanations in the book, and verbal explanations in class. Perhaps the most disturbing discovery was that the term NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) did not translate well into Chinese. Chinese students were concerned that we praised the work of some NGOs. They considered NGOs to be subversive because their translation of the term was "Anti-Government Organisation".

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