Chinese students have voiced their growing frustration with the Business School’s response to last year’s mass failure of a postgraduate commerce subject, saying it reflects an endemic attitude towards international students on campus.
Approximately 37 per cent of students who took BUSS5000: Critical Thinking in Business in the first semester of 2015 failed the unit, with a vast majority of them Chinese.
Poppy Wang from the Sydney University Chinese Student and Scholar Association (SUCSA) said many Chinese students believed the way the course was taught disadvantaged international students.
“Professors and tutors don’t really care about international students. [Tutors are virtually saying to Chinese international students] ‘you don’t answer normally, just in Chinglish. I can’t understand you, I will skip you and move to the next valuable student’,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s fair. English is not [Chinese students’] mother tongue. They cannot respond like a local student, and that’s what most teachers criticise students about.”
An open letter signed by 309 Chinese students was presented to the Dean of the Business School on July 16 arguing the unit’s assessment criteria was not transparent and the final exam was too heavily weighted towards ‘grammar or expression’ rather than content, unfairly disadvantaging non-English speakers.
Wang said the feeling of being overlooked by teaching staff wasn’t limited to the Business School. “It’s a sad thing. Chinese students always tell me that [they’re] being treated differently to the local students. We pay the money and get nothing. Even less than local students.”
Of those students who failed in semester one last year, it is understood about 194 filed a formal appeal to the University, with only 16 succeeding in overturning their fail grade. Many more said their appeal was rejected by default after the Business School did not respond in time.
Deputy Dean of the Business School Professor John Shields denied the allegations, saying the School was “very diligent” about procedural fairness in students’ appeals. “To the best of my knowledge, no student was disadvantaged by the school or them not meeting the standard deadline,” he said.
Professor Shields added changes had been made to the course in 2016, including English language support services and a restructured teaching staff, that he was “absolutely hopeful” would reduce the failure rate among international students.
“I think we do have a degree of intercultural awareness that needs to be developed but I wouldn’t agree that we can generalise those statements to the majority of the tutors.”
Honi understands the Chinese consulate in Sydney made a request to the University that failed students be granted the opportunity to resit the exam, but the Business School refused. The Chinese consulate was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
Wang said Chinese students struggling with units like BUSS5000 was a perennial issue, but only became the subject of wider discussion when mainstream media reported on it last year.
“I think the [Business School] understands the language limitations of these students, but they do not care about the students’ situations. We are not being noticed, we’re living in our own world.”
Professor Shields rejected the suggestion international students were treated differently from local students in the classroom.
“I would dispute the suggestion that there is endemic disregard for the interests of international students here. The vast majority of my colleagues care about international students,” he said.
A letter from Adrian Cardinali of the postgraduate representative council, SUPRA, addressed to Professor Shields in July argued the Chinese students who took the unit were set up to fail.
“If such a large number of students apparently did not meet the standard required to pass the in class exam and pass the unit, why was more not done earlier?” it read.
Since 2015, SUCSA has facilitated group forums via massively popular messaging apps like WeChat and social network Weibo for students who have passed BUSS5000 to provide suppose to students struggling under the stress of the subject.
If you are an international student and you know more about this, you can get in touch with the editors here or the SRC’s international students officers here. Anonymity can be guaranteed and all correspondence will be treated in the strictest confidence.