Non-native English speakers have a voice at UTS too
In a city where cultural and ethnic diversity is growing as rapidly as the population itself, it is no surprise that the number of international research students who come to study at UTS from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB) is increasing.
UTS researchers Dr Meera Varadharajan and Dr Sandris Zeivots of the School of Education have recently been awarded a UTS Social Impact grant of $5000 for their study on the lived experiences of NESB research students at UTS.
“We’d like to give NESB students a voice so that their suggestions for appropriate support systems at UTS can be heard,” adds Dr Varadharajan.
The research seeks to gain a more sophisticated understanding of the views and concerns of NESB students, and how their expectations and perceptions of the university shape their experience in the UTS research student community. Previous studies in Australia have shown that in addition to cultural and linguistic barriers, these students face academic and social challenges particular to the context of the research student experience.
“Often, the context is crucial in determining which experiences are more common and/or specific to different universities and faculty cultures,” says Dr Zeivots.
“Coming from a culturally diverse background, we were both able to contextualise some of the challenges faced by international students and bring our unique perspectives and experiences to the study,” said Dr Varadharajan.
Both ex- doctoral NESB students of UTS themselves, the researchers share a passion for transforming communities through research, education and practice in this area. With a background in teacher education, Dr Varadharjan has acted as a mentor to research students and facilitated a number of doctoral student workshops. Dr Zeivots has worked with research students for the last four years and has coordinated various research projects on students’ needs and expectations, such as his study on higher degree research learning spaces at UTS.
“Our study specifically focuses on the first year research students at UTS because we believe understanding and supporting them in their first year of study is crucial to their academic success,” said Dr Zeivots.
The study will involve an online survey for UTS international research students with a number of open and closed ended questions on their non-academic and academic experiences both within Faculty and outside the Faculty. The survey also asks for their suggestions for understanding and improving the culture around international research students.
The goal is that the students’ recommendations are taken up at UTS and that the findings of the study are shared with the wider research community to extend the impact of this project beyond UTS. Both NESB students and researchers form a key part of the pillars that support UTS as an agent for social change, as outlined in the UTS Social Justice Framework released earlier this year.