Letters – 4 April 2019

April 1, 2019

How the rich row admissions currents

Following up your reporting of the illegal admissions fraud story in relation to some US universities (“US admissions bribes case exposes fine line of legality”, News, 21 March) – as opposed to the long history of immoral admissions via alumni donations, which partly explain the endowment wealth of some US institutions – it is interesting to read in the FBI criminal indictment documentation that many of the arrested parents were offsetting against tax their donations to the sham charity involved while cheekily declaring such donations as being to assist “underprivileged kids” – as opposed to the real “charitable” objective of assisting their overprivileged but under-athletic and academically underachieving offspring.

Moreover in the subsequently lodged class-action civil litigation documentation against, inter alia, the various institutions themselves, it is pertinent that in some cases parents also made payments to the university’s bank account as sports donations, seemingly without the institution putting much effort into checking that the “donations” might not be linked to the admissions system’s obvious vulnerability to a dodgy sports coach being tempted to “sell” freshman places (these coaches duly receiving bungs via the sham charity).

It is all a far cry from the amateurish 1950s when certain Oxbridge colleges used to have conveniently “easy” courses for which suitably beefy US rowers could be admitted.

David Palfreyman
Bursar and fellow
New College, Oxford

Language limits

In light of reports that language difficulties could be a factor in international students’ use of essay mills (“International students and cheating: how worried should we be?”, News, 21 March), it is important to be clear on what a language proficiency exam such as the International English Language Testing System tells you about a candidate’s competence, and what it does not.

There is an assumption among people using these exams for a variety of purposes including university entrance that the scores are much more universal and meaningful than they actually are. These are snapshots of competence, and they follow exam task types – users need to understand what exactly the exams measure, and it is recommended that a second method be used as a verifier. In addition, the issue of threshold level for success in the target domain must be carefully considered, for research indicates that current scores accepted for university entrance without formal and rigorous in-sessional support are too low.

Sue Hackett
Via timeshighereducation.com


Re “International students and cheating: how worried should we be?”, I offer an example from my own experience.

A final-year overseas student seeks advice on a piece of work. The student is unable to speak to you in English and is unable to understand what is being said to them in English. You end the session with the student, having made it clear that there is a problem with their language proficiency and that this problem is likely to have an impact on their ability to navigate through to graduation. You make it clear that you are judging not their intellect but rather their language skills.

Upon notifying the course leader responsible for recruiting the student, you are told that this student’s IELTS score is very good. You are then told that the student has been recruited directly into the final year after having taken a “feeder” course in their home country. You then explain your experience and are told that you are judging the student too early and to wait for their work to be submitted.

Anonymous marking makes it impossible to detect which student’s work is associated with your prior experience. When all the marking is completed, you wonder how it’s possible not to have detected a piece of work with any language defects. After moderation of the work and the submission of the marks to the centre, you realise that this overseas student has written a linguistically faultless submission. You alert the course leader, who accuses you of being difficult and “anti” the student; you are invited to “prove” that the submission is not the student’s own work regardless of your previous testimony. You get the feeling that you’re being taunted and challenged. You also hear the ka-ching of the till as the student’s fees makes a contribution to the vice-chancellor’s excellent performance record. So…how worried should we be? You be the judge.

Via timeshighereducation.com

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