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Researchers look for better ways for UK universities to handle interactions with potential international students

Professor Helen Spencer-Oatey from Warwick’s Centre for Applied Linguistics (CAL) and Dr Kyung Hye Kim from Shanghai Jiao Tong University have analysed the postings of students on Korean online communities as they interact with potential future PhD supervisors in the UK.

Their research revealed that the students had very clear goals, but a lack of relevant contextual information (as revealed in students’ questions) led to difficulties in interpreting the messages sent by university staff. The students were particularly confused about the rights and obligations of supervisors and their decision-making power. This led to high levels of uncertainty in responding to messages and in planning their communication with potential supervisors, resulting in a desire to reduce this by seeking the advice and guidance of others.


Professor Spencer-Oatey explained:

“This research has significant implications for the higher education sector. It is essential that UK universities pay more attention to the impact that background information can have on the recruitment process and ensure that their communications don’t take too much for granted.

Many students were deciding between UK and US universities, and communication was clearly an influencing factor as they weighed up their choices. Future research could usefully throw more light on the details.”

In early 2018 Dr Kim was awarded a Rutherford Strategic International Fellowship to spend three months at Warwick, funded by the UK government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). In 2018-19 Warwick hosted twelve early career researchers (ECRs) under the Rutherford programme, five of whom were from SJTU. There is a strong history of collaboration between Warwick and SJTU, and the fellowships enabled the two institutions to further expand their partnership with the ECRs creating greater impact for existing projects and establishing the feasibility of new projects.

Reflecting on her experience at Warwick Dr Kim said:

"The intellectual dialogue prompted by my visit to CAL has continued even after my return to China and has resulted in a co-authored journal article on international students’ uncertainties over relating to UK academics. It has also inspired further work (currently in progress): as part of our outreach effort, we are exploring ways to implement appropriate measures to address the issues identified in the previous study (i.e. international students’ uncertainties), particularly in terms of the application process.

The collaboration between the individual staff member at each institution has also now expanded to team level, whereby some scholars at CAL (Warwick) and the School of Foreign Languages (SJTU) have teamed up to produce synergy to implement a more encompassing project. The collaboration between the two institutions is expected to continue for years to come for mutual benefit, demonstrating true intercultural communication.”