Study provides clues to attracting English Language Teaching students

Three students talking to each other at a table with a textbook, notebook and keypad

The first UK-wide analysis of postgraduate courses in English Language Teaching – led by University of Stirling academics – has revealed key factors in attracting new students.

With English used as the language of international communication, the provision of English Language Teaching (ELT) Masters courses is an important source of income for UK universities.

However, even though a majority of students on these courses come from overseas and are paying full fees, Stirling academics say the importance of this “is not always celebrated or even recognised”.

Now, in the first UK-wide study mapping the provision of ELT Masters courses, they have identified factors that may attract new students.

The study ‘ELT Masters courses in the UK: students’ expectations and experiences’, commissioned by the British Council, identified 141 programmes offered by UK universities, including full and part-time, face-to-face and online courses.

A pre-study questionnaire, completed by 502 ELT Masters students, asked why they chose to study in the UK and what factors influenced their decision when selecting a university.

The three most commonly chosen factors were university reputation, course length and academic support.

Cost came fourth, suggesting that students were willing to compromise as long as they were studying at a worthwhile institution.

When asked how they selected their university, reputation was again the top factor, followed by study facilities and published university rankings, while factors influencing the choice of programme were course content and structure, the reputation of the course and its staff, and the degree title.

Of the students who participated in the study, over 43 per cent came from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan with a further 7.6 per cent from other countries in South and East Asia.

A post-study questionnaire completed by 346 students looked at the ways the programmes fulfilled students’ desires and expectations.

Students were most satisfied with their location within the UK, personal safety and study facilities.  They were least satisfied with the possibilities for paid employment during the Masters as well as the cost of fees and accommodation.

“A notable feature of most of these programmes is their international dimension, and many of the students are from overseas, often from Asia, and paying full fees,” say the researchers.

“They are therefore an important source of income for UK higher education, though this reality is not always celebrated or even recognised.”

Co-author of the report Dr Vander Viana, Lecturer in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, said that while improving an institution’s reputation wasn’t something that could be achieved overnight, the study revealed other aspects that university staff members could work on.

“There was a need to investigate what we collectively do well – and not so well – in ELT teacher education in this country,” he said.

“Our findings provide clear guidance for those involved in the delivery of ELT Masters programmes and also for other university staff members such as those working in recruitment offices.

“One of the key lessons is that student support must not be taken for granted. This has been shown to be a key factor in students’ decision to come to the UK and their choice of university. This is an aspect that we can easily change in the short term.”

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