Scholarly article on topic 'Research on International Students in Traditional Host Countries and Malaysia: Some Potential Areas in Malaysia'

Research on International Students in Traditional Host Countries and Malaysia: Some Potential Areas in Malaysia Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Noor Saazai Mat Saad, Melor Md Yunus, Mohamed Amin Embi

Abstract This conceptual paper presents research conducted involving international students in traditional host countries; namely The United Kingdom, The United States and Australia, and in Malaysia. The body of research in traditional host countries has reached its third phase (Dawson & Hacket, 2006) while Malaysia is at an initial stage. Scrutinizing the studies done in both locations; one of the common issues that surfaces is the lack of English Language Skills among the international students. Emulating the studies done in traditional host countries and examining the extant literature in Malaysia; this paper highlights two aspects – the tools and individuals that can ease and promote English language learning as potential areas to be explored.

Academic research paper on topic "Research on International Students in Traditional Host Countries and Malaysia: Some Potential Areas in Malaysia"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 90 (2013) 488 - 496

6th International Conference on University Learning and Teaching (InCULT 2012)

Research on international students in traditional host countries and Malaysia: Some potential areas in Malaysia

Noor Saazai Mat Saad*a, Melor Md Yunusb, Mohamed Amin Embic

aUniversiti Sains Islam Malaysia, 78100 Bandar Baru Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia bcUniversiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 46300 Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia


This conceptual paper presents research conducted involving international students in traditional host countries; namely The United Kingdom, The United States and Australia, and in Malaysia. The body of research in traditional host countries has reached its third phase (Dawson & Hacket, 2006) while Malaysia is at an initial stage. Scrutinizing the studies done in both locations; one of the common issues that surfaces is the lack of English Language Skills among the international students. Emulating the studies done in traditional host countries and examining the extant literature in Malaysia; this paper highlights two aspects - the tools and individuals that can ease and promote English language learning as potential areas to be explored.

© 2013TheAuthors.Publishedby ElsevierLtd.

Selectionand/orpeer-reviewunder responsibilityoftheFaculty of Education,University TechnologyMARA, Malaysia. Keywords: International Students, Malaysia, Traditional host countries;

1. Introduction

The education world seems seamless as it has been "flattened and levelled for all players" (Friedman, as cited in Gibson (2008, p.204). The main 'players' in this context are the international students (ISs) who pursue their education in another country. Their destination is usually English-speaking countries like The United Kingdom, The United States, and Australia (Arkoudis & Tran 2006; Harman, 2005; Schapper & Mayson, 2005). These countries are referred to in literature as traditional host countries. In the pursuance of knowledge, the ISs bodily move to a different location that might be totally different from their home country in terms of weather, food, education systems, cultures, languages, religions and beliefs, and the list goes on. Facing these differences is the first challenge that they have to go through. They might have to change in order to adapt to the new situations. The changes are categorized into five general areas: physical changes like a new place to live; cultural changes;

* Corresponding author. Tel.:+606-7988000; fax:+606-7988005. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the Faculty of Education, University Technology MARA, Malaysia. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.07.118

different sets of social relationships; biological changes like new nutritional status and changes in one's psychology, behaviour and mental health status (Berry et al, 1987). All these give rise to myriad of issues; thus opening doors to research spanning all over the world and investigating all possible factors and elements from all sides and angles.

Undoubtedly, being major destinations, The UK, The US and Australia have a strong body of research on ISs. Not only due to the high total of ISs sojourning in the countries, for example in 2011 the number of students was 428 225 ( 723 277 (, and 557 425 ( respectively, but also because their duties as hosts started very early in the century, for instance, Australia became host to many students from Asian countries when The Colombo Plan started in 1950s (Cuthbert et al., 2008; Dawson & Hackett, 2006). On the other hand, Malaysia is considered the emerging contender, together with Singapore and China (Verbik & Lasanowski, 2007). ISs only began to flood the Malaysian education landscape in 1996 (Morshidi, 2008). Thus, in terms of research, it is not a surprise that being a neophyte in the hosting of international students, Malaysia's research is only in its initial phase. This paper will look into the research on international students done in the traditional host countries especially Australia and map it to the scenario of research in Malaysia. This paper ends with a discussion of two potential areas concerning international students in Malaysia that can be developed further especially to include the teaching and learning of English.

2. Method

Data were gathered in the process of literature review of a bigger study. The data were collected from published materials and theses. The materials concerning ISs overseas and in Malaysia which are in publication in the last ten (10) years were collected. Although the overseas materials were mainly from Australia; any general "remarks made in context of British education, apply equally to the Australian situation" (Ferman, 2003, p.39) and vice versa. Data were managed by Microsoft OneNote 2007.

3. Research on International Students in traditional host countries

The ISs' dissimilarities in the way of life and many other aspects in the traditional host countries warrant the name 'The Other' (Doherty & Singh, 2005; Trevaskes et al., 2003). Due to their differences, they have become interesting subjects to be studied - whether to highlight the various distinctions like Learning styles (Wong, 2004), interpretations of academic writing (Arkoudis & Tran, 2006); to discuss their problems -- adjustments (Andrade, 2006; Fritz et al., 2008; Jiang et al., 2009), language difficulties (Sawir, 2005) or experiences (Guilfoyle & Harryba, 2009; Myles & Cheng, 2003; Novera, 2004), and to focus on issues especially related to them like preparation in adaptation to new environment (Caroll, 2005) and transition period (Hellsten, 2008; Hellsten & Prescott, 2004).

Some overseas studies overlook the origin of the international students. Studies by Andrade (2006), Myles and Cheng (2003), Fritz et al. (2008), Tavakoli et al. (2009), Hellsten and Prescott (2004), Sakurai et al. (2009), and Hunley (2009) have grouped all international students together. Nevertheless, some actually focus on certain nationality because different nationalities might have their own issues when studying in western universities. Hence, "different cultural background must be analysed as different from each other" (Guilfoyle & Harryba, 2009, p.3). Studies done on ISs according to country and nationality are for example, Chinese (Arkoudis & Tran, 2006; Jiang et al., 2009; Sayers & Franklin, 2008; Zhu et al., 2008); Indonesians (Novera, 2004); Indians (Sameena, 2006); Asians in general (Sawir, 2005; Wong, 2004); Seychelles (Guilfoyle & Harryba, 2009); Turks (Bektas et al., 2009); Omanis (Gauntlet, 2010) and Iranians (Mehdizadeh & Scott, 2005). Moreover, the Indians became the centre of attention when the number of attacks on them escalated in 2009 in Australia (Munro & Dhillon, 2009). Whatever the reason for the research, the aim is to better understand them and give an insight to the other stakeholders like the academics and the host university management team members to assist them in making their stay and education experience in the host country worthwhile and meaningful.

Moving to the micro level in light of teaching and learning, some studies report on measures done to accommodate the ISs and also utilize the diversity in the institutions and classes. Singh (2003) adopts the ethnographic teaching method to enable his ISs to have first-hand experience using the English language, while Dawson and Hacket (2006) modify business projects to address the previous experiences of ISs. Furthermore, lecturers avoid cultural misunderstanding by making clear ambiguous words in learning outcomes and incorporate internationalisation by including a lot of international examples in culturally diverse contexts (Hellsten, 2008). In addition to that, Trahar (2008) "invite[s]" (p.54) her ISs to discuss instead of just throwing the questions at them. Being a counselor for 15 years, she believes in emphasising emotion in learning especially to ISs who have travelled far and with numerous challenges. Moreover, since lack of English language proficiency spearheads the list of problems for ISs in western universities (Andrade, 2006), there are initiatives to provide support for them like reported by Storch and Tapper (2009) where they documented the progress made by international postgraduate students in their English for Academic Purposes (EAP) writing class. Further, there are also studies that look into the ISs' language learning strategies by Bernat et al. (2009), Gao (2006), Griffiths (2003) and Wu (2011) in Australia, Britain, New Zealand and America, respectively.

To encapsulate, due to the influx of ISs in The UK, The US, Australia and other English-speaking countries, the research conducted is vast and in depth, embracing both social and academic aspects; various fields like psychology, sociology, linguistics, counselling and more; and also macro (host institution management team) and micro (class - teaching and learning) levels.

4. Research on International Students in Malaysia

The number of ISs in Malaysia is growing healthily. The 2010 statistics indicate that there were 86 293 foreigners from 150 countries registered as ISs in public and private higher institutions (Ministry of Higher Education [MoHE], 2010). This is double the number from 40, 525 in 2005 (World-class education, 2009). This growth is in line with Malaysia's aspiration to become the hub of education in the region (Kerr, 2011). In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia is reported to have announced that by 2020, MoHE aims for Malaysia to be the host for at least 200,000 ISs (Chi, 2011). Therefore, looking at the accumulating number, the aim can be realized.

However, Malaysia is new at playing host to ISs. This is evinced by the nature of literature circulating in Malaysia. Documents reporting studies involving ISs include those on policy and trend (Morshidi, 2008; Tham & Kam, 2008); on the factors that influence their choice of university in Malaysia (Mohd Taib et al., 2009; Rohaizat et al., 2011; Rohana et al., 2010; Zainurin & Muhamad, 2011); on the ISs' problems in general (Alavi & Mansor, 2011; Khairi & Rechards, 2010; Manjula & Slethaug, 2011; Pandian, 2008; Zuria et al., 2010; Zuria et al., 2012). The foci of some of these studies are on descriptions of ISs' problems and their perceptions. Hence, it can be concluded that the literature on ISs in Malaysia is still very general if compared to the research and studies conducted in traditional host countries. Table 1 depicts among others the focus and issue on several recent studies on ISs in Malaysia.

Table 1: Recent studies on ISs in Malaysia

Author/s Focus/Issue Sample Methods Findings (points involving English and

academic are bold)

Zuria et al Acculturation 30 ISs from 3 Focus group -Malaysians speak English with Malay

2010 universities. interviews (5-6 in accent

each group) -Lack of English usage on signage and


-Three big problems: Climate, Culture and

Khairi & Perception of 326 Arab Questionnaire - 3 -Language class is poor for all.

Rechards Arab respondents parts: English -Academic challenges cause worries

(2010) postgraduates from 5 Proficiency, Cultural Thus, students must be linked better to

universities & Academic academic research and writing


Alavi & ISs problems 135 ISs from 3 Mixed methods - -Five (5) most disturbing 'problem'

Mansor countries (117- Questionnaire & categories :

(2011) Iran, 10-Saudi Interview with 3 1) Social & recreational

& 8-China) student presidents 2) Curriculum & Method of teaching

57 males, 78 from countries 3) Adapting to future career

females involved (Iran, 4) Financial, lifestyle & career related

Saudi & China) 5) Adapting to academic work

Manjula & Improving 78 ISs in a ACE Questionnaire -Challenges for IS:

Slethaug learning tertiary by Slethaug 1) Differences in cultural communication

(2011) experience institution 2) English Language Usage

from 17 3) Critical thinking skills

countries 4) Technology skills

5) Participation in collaborative learning

6) Expectations of rote learning

7) Academic literacy styles

8) Assimilation in and out of the classroom

AIM: to arouse awareness to institutions in


Mohd Zaki Develop & 40 ISs in UKM -Needs analysis Problematic skills in English : 1)Speaking

(2011) evaluate LLS -Language 2.Writing 3.Reading 4.Vocab & grammar

module Strategies Use 5.listening


Yusliza & Factors that A conceptual Literature Review English Language Proficiency is one of the

Chelliah affect paper seven aspects that affects IS' adaptation in

(2010) adaptation Malaysia

Mousavi & Academic Quanti - 85 Mixed Method -most problematic in academic writing is

Kashefian- problems of students Questionnaire 'expressing own voices and concepts when

Naeeini Iranian Quali - 10 Interview writing in English'

(2011) postgraduates in students -reason for problems : Environment in home

UKM country is not motivating and encouraging

enough for English language learning.

Zuria et al. Students ' 16 ISs -Focus group -deficiency of English language to

(2012) adjustment interviews communicate and for academic use

-Psycho-educational -psycho-educational sessions help to

group improve English and academic writing

The findings from the studies listed in Table 1 above highlight the academic and English language issues in Malaysia. It can be deduced that English language is firstly, a very important factor for ISs; and secondly, it has posed a lot of challenges for ISs. Concerns over the new academic milieu are represented in Alavi and Mansor (2011), Khairi and Rechards (2010), and Manjula and Slethaug's (2011) papers. Manjula and Slethaug's (2011) respondents have also named English as challenge number two (2) in a list of eight (8) challenges in studying in Malaysia. More specifically Mohd Zaki (2011) shows the hierarchy of problematic skills with Speaking as the most problematic and Listening as the least. In addition, in demystifying the problems in English Academic

Writing for Iranian postgraduate students, Mousavi and Kashefian-Naeeini (2010) discover that the participants find it difficult to 'express own voice and concepts in English'. Further, the responses from Zuria et al.'s (2010) participants suggest that English is not placed highly in Malaysia. The students' complaints about the use of the English language in Malaysia signify that they are concerned about the importance of English. Its significance for ISs is further emphasized in Yusliza and Chelliah's (2010) framework for acculturation in Malaysia where English language proficiency is one of the seven (7) aspects that affects ISs' adaptation in Malaysia.

5. Comparing the issues in the literature on ISs in host countries and in Malaysia

In comparison to traditional host countries especially Australia that has gone into its third phase of research on ISs (Dawson & Hacket, 2006), Malaysia is still in its first if not early stage of studies conducted involving them. Literature in host countries has shown broad and deep discussions concerning issues on ISs, it even addresses possible solutions to problems highlighted. However, among the many issues raised in both sets of literature, the concern about the command in the English language among ISs exists in most host countries and also in Malaysia. The latter scenario is clearly shown by the findings in Table 1. As elucidated in the discussion on research in host countries, steps have been taken to ease and upgrade the English language among ISs through the use of different teaching approaches and by addressing their different language learning strategies. In Malaysia, however, the discussion evolves mostly on the problems, not much of the solution, yet.

6. Discussion on potential areas for research on ISs in Malaysia

In line with the discussion in the previous paragraph on the lack of ways to ease and upgrade the English language command of ISs in Malaysia, there are actually plethora of issues and aspects concerning the English language teaching and learning that can be investigated. Although it is possible to make use of the solutions presented in the studies conducted in the traditional host countries, the Malaysian environment is different especially in terms of the English language environment as English is not the first language here unlike in the traditional host countries. Thus, this warrants for studies to be conducted. The studies may replicate the ones conducted in traditional host countries or they might be totally new. Two of them are succinctly discussed below.

6.1 Tools or methods to ease English language learning

As can be seen among the studies in Table 1, Mohd Zaki's (2011) study and Zuria et al.'s (2012) research move towards providing a tool to ease the learning of English for ISs in Malaysia. The former includes a language learning strategy module designed for ISs based on the needs analysis conducted. The module is then evaluated by a group of ISs and it was appraised as usable to enhance their language learning. As for the latter study, Zuria and her colleagues conducted a quasi-experiment in using psycho-educational group approach to a group of ISs. They went for five psycho-educational group sessions and they acknowledged, among others the improvement in their command of the English language.

The field of English language learning strategies should be scrutinized further as its orchestrated and effective use can enhance English language achievement (Bialystok, 1981; Gu, 2010, O'Malley et al., 1985). There are at least seven bases for further inquiry in this field: (1) the 'Good Language Learner' list, (2) anecdotal report, (3) psychological functions, (4) concepts, (5) connection with learning, (6) environment and learning setting, and (7) language skills (Kamarul Shukri & Mohamed Amin, 2010). Some of these bases have been translated into questionnaires like Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) (Oxford, 1990), Language Strategy Use Survey (Cohen et al., 2005) and Strategy Questionnaire (SQ) (Mohamed Amin, 1996; 2000). Another aspect that can be dissected is strategy chain (Oxford, 2011) or strategy cluster (Macaro, 2004). It is a research on repertoire of language learning strategies that are used concurrently or in sequence in completing a certain task.

The study of language learning strategies is not just to have an aerial picture of the strategies that these learners have but should also be expanded to exposing them to the effective language learning strategies that can be

employed in Malaysia to boost their English language learning. Although there is a strong body of research on language learning strategies all over the world, there seems to be a dearth of research conducted on ISs learning English in Malaysia.

Further, with the advancement of technology, availability of gadgets and uninterrupted Wi-fi; online forums or social networking sites (SNSs) can be utilized to open up ways for ISs to practise their written English language through online posting of statuses and discussions. In line with one of Zuria et al.'s (2012) findings that having psycho-educational group discussion could actually improve these ISs' English language; the postings of their statuses and getting involved in online discussion might enhance their writing ability. In other words, a method that incorporates the aspect of group activity and with the right topic might boost the use of the English language besides alleviating their stress in the new place.

6.2 Surrounding individuals who can promote the use of English language

The individuals around international students include the language instructors/lecturers and local students. With the many private language centres providing English classes for ISs, and language units in universities running English courses for ISs registered with the university; the language instructors and the lecturers are directly involved in teaching these sojourners. It can be really thought-provoking to explore among others, the pedagogical challenges faced by these instructors and lecturers; the questioning techniques that are employed; and the effective approaches that promote the use of English.

Another group of individuals that experiences direct contact with the international students is the local students. It can be advantageous for them in terms of the opportunities to practise the English language with ISs and also to develop themselves to be global and international individuals through working, communicating, exchanging knowledge with the foreign students (Sancho, 2008). They should become more culturally aware and are always encouraged to find ways to interact with one another. These are the "experiences to draw from when later working with culturally diverse groups of colleagues and clients" (Tindale, 2008, p.148) anywhere in the world. In the case of local students, the possible research can be two-sided; how they play their roles in helping the adaptation of ISs and also how their engagement with the ISs can give them chance to practise the English language and build their characters to include softskills that are relevant for future undertakings.

The tools that ease English language learning and the people that can promote the use of English among ISs are not novel ideas but they entail broader and deeper issues as the conflation between ISs and the environment and education system in Malaysia might spark some interesting insights and become a platform for further inquiries. Hence, they have potential to contribute to the pool of knowledge on English language learning and teaching and ISs. Furthermore, conducting research involving ISs as the participants/respondents might give an insightful understanding of their academic endeavour in Malaysia and this enables Malaysia to ameliorate its roles and practices as a host country in providing meaningful and world-class education for all students.

7. Conclusion

The influx of ISs that floods the traditional host countries and Malaysia adds diversity to the education landscape in the countries involved, thus providing avenues for research and studies to be conducted. As a novice in hosting ISs, Malaysia can emulate the string of research produced by traditional host countries. Thus, there are countless elements that can be investigated. However, since it has been surmised that both locations highlight the issue of English language as a problem for ISs; there is a greater need to look into the problem of English language deficiency among ISs in Malaysia. This is because unlike the traditional host countries that can provide wide exposure of the English language for ISs since The UK, The US and Australia are all English-speaking countries, Malaysia, on the other hand has a different environment altogether. Therefore, some insights and possible solutions for this problem will ensure a positive experience for all involved - ISs and Malaysia, as the host country.


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