Language for academic purposes (LAP) programmes are most popular in major English- speaking destinations such as the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, although they are also emerging in a handful of non-English speaking countries, as national governments increasingly look to grow their education export industry.
The French government launched its EduFrance campaign to promote its education opportunities overseas a couple of years ago, while, more recently, the German government launched its 'Green Card' initiative to attract more international high flyers to Germany. As a result of the German scheme, says Dorothee Robrecht at GLS Sprachenzentrum in Germany, 'German universities have realised they need more international input, and for the first time in history, have started marketing themselves.'
However LAP is still only a fledgling sector of the language teaching market in both Germany and France, so course content remains rather rudimentary, concentrating on language acquisition only. Berlitz and GLS Sprachenzentrum in Germany focus on preparing students for the DHS exam, which is required, along with high school leaving certificates, for university entry. Similarly in France, language schools generally prepare would-be French university students for the Delf and Dalf exams.
English language offerings
In contrast, most LAPs in the main English-speaking destinations encompass a wide range of components, including developing research skills, seminar presentation skills, note taking, and critical thinking and analysis. Costa Canoquena, EAP Teacher at Sydney International College in Australia, says of their English for academic purposes (EAP) programme, 'The curriculum emphasises the acquisition of both language proficiency and general knowledge. These tools should ensure a smooth transition to tertiary studies as students learn to approach topics of academic interest as well as coping skills for academic studies.'
Louise Chawhan, Director of Studies at the Centre for English Language Teaching at the University of Western Australia in Australia, adds, 'EAP students are encouraged to become efficient, independent users of language. They are helped to develop strategies that will enable them to successfully meet the academic expectations of their teachers later in their study career.' At the centre, students have the opportunity to participate in 'authentic tasks', says Chawhan, such as preparing a presentation on a related topic to their intended studies or note taking in mainstream lectures.
One of the advantages of taking an LAP course at a university or college is that international students can often access lectures and resources in the field in which they want to specialise in the future. David Killick at the Centre for Language Study at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK also points out that as these language centres are usually situated at the university, students have the chance to become familiar with the university environment and study facilities, and mix with other students.
Although schools that are not part of a university or college may not have the same pool of academic resources, many nevertheless incorporate the student's field of interest in their programmes. At Languages International in New Zealand, Academic Director, Darren Conway, says, 'Students cannot necessarily take an elective in their own area of academic interest, but they can - as part of the course - research and deliver a final seminar on their area of interest.'
Not only does EAP course content vary from one provider to another, but courses may also vary to suit the academic environment of the country. In the USA, for example, the first two years of a degree are a lot broader than, for example, in the UK. As a consequence, says Kelly Franklin, Director of International Services at Maryville College and Center for English Language Learning in the USA, 'We do not necessarily feature the exact major field of each student [in our EAP course]. This is because, in the US system, students cannot specialise as they do in many other countries. Even students majoring in business, for example, will need to take courses during their undergraduate studies in subjects such as history, sociology, fine arts [and] literature.'
She adds, 'We have noted from past experience that often international students can easily handle the coursework in their specific field [of academic interest] but they have more difficulty with the courses of other fields which they are also required to take.'
Another component of many EAP courses is an English exam, such as Ielts or Toefl, as high scores are required as a prerequisite to entry into university. However, all EAP programmes require students to have a high level of the language before starting. St Mark's International Colleges in Australia has recently increased the entry level of English for its EAP programme to upper intermediate because, as Marnie Locke, Marketing Manager and Assistant Manager at the school, says, 'Past experience has shown that students who attempt the course without having mastered at least an intermediate level of general English were disadvantaged in their academic study - in particular the writing component.'
It is widely acknowledged that the academic element of the EAP course is extremely important and, as a consequence, many providers have in recent years adapted their courses to ensure they meet all the students' future academic study requirements. At Languages International in New Zealand, Conway says, 'Last year we overhauled our EAP courses to build in more time for independent work by students to increase the direct vocabulary input and to make the key assessed tasks better reflections of genuine tertiary assessments.'
Similarly, at the Centre for Language Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University, Killick explains, '[We] have increased the percentage devoted to subject content work for suitable students since this element seems to provide one of the most motivating and useful components.'
Courses that prepare students for academic studies are valued by tertiary institutions to such an extent that those who gain certain grades in a course may be guaranteed entry into a university or college. However, there are usually certain conditions students must satisfy. 'Our course ensures entry to over 15 British universities, subject to passing the interview and gaining a satisfactory Ielts score,' says Caroline West at Kings School in the UK.
Other centres, such as Queensland International Business Academy (QIBA) in Australia, work more closely with tertiary education providers. 'We have a unique EAP/Masters foundation programme in cooperation with the Graduate College of Management of Southern Cross University,' explains Helmer Lich, Director of Studies at QIBA. 'This 13-week course includes one unit from the Southern Cross MBA programme.' In addition, students who successfully complete QIBA's diploma of English for international students are guaranteed entry to Southern Cross University or Central Queensland University.
High school preparation
A niche in this market sector that is growing at a faster pace than university preparation courses is high school preparation. As Hill points out, 'In Australia, the final two years of high school are very important and together determine where the student can study - university, Tafe or business school - and what he/she can study. And English skills are essential to making the most of high school.'
High school preparation programmes generally combine English language lessons with lessons in core high school subjects, such as maths, science, geography and history. Some high schools have even set up separate study centres for international students, which allows them to learn English and other skills within the school before joining mainstream lessons (see Language Travel Magazine, July 2002, page 17). Susan Harris at Taunton International Study Centre (TISC) in the UK, which is part of the Taunton Preparatory School, says, 'Our youngest students aged nine to 12 have lessons at TISC but board with the English children at the [main school].'
Generally speaking, LAP courses are most popular with students from Asia, as they are the most avid education travellers. Language Travel Magazine's regular Agency Surveys reveal that overseas studies is the reason for taking a language travel programme for 75 per cent of Thai students (see Language Travel Magazine, January 2002, pages 16-17) compared with only four per cent of Germans (see Language Travel Magazine, February 2002, pages 14-15). And many LAP providers around the world say recent growth in this sector has been fuelled by the opening of the Chinese market.
However, two significant factors have had a negative influence on the market: the tightening of visa regulations for entry into some countries and the general expansion of tertiary education opportunities in the students' home countries. Canoquena in Australia notes an increase in students from China, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America, but a decrease in Korean and Indonesian students. 'The reasons [for these changes] are mainly attributable to the recent changes in immigration matters [in Australia],' he explains. 'Some countries have seen tougher restrictions imposed on them when applying for student visas.'
In the UK, West says, 'The [events in the USA on] September 11 2001 have affected us. We are having more difficulties getting visas - particularly for Chinese students.' She adds, 'This sector of the market has not been hit any harder than any other sector.'
Franklin in the USA argues that the EAP sector has been more resilient than others. 'I do not think [EAP] was affected as badly as the general short-term English [market]' she says. 'Those with clear ambitions to study in the US are still trying to come, while some short-term visitors have probably been frightened away.' She adds that the adverse economic conditions in some countries in South America 'have affected us more drastically'.
Of greater concern to Franklin are the new visa regulations in the USA, which, although not as restrictive as initially feared by the international education industry, may still deter students from studying there. 'Many Asian students will think that it is too difficult to get visas for English study - or college study - when, in fact, the difficulty for them will probably not change at all,' she says.
Another element squeezing the LAP sector of the market is the expansion of education opportunities in students' home countries. 'For many years, there were large groups of very qualified students who could not gain admission into good schools in their countries,' explains Franklin, 'but more and more, these countries are opening up other schools and allowing students more academic freedom to pursue the degrees of their choice.'
For New Zealand, there is another limiting factor: its relatively small number of universities. Conway says that state universities must develop their capacity to meet the demand for places, 'Otherwise we will be providing EAP preparation for non-existent places at universities.' However, on a more positive note, he adds, 'Even if the local state tertiary sector is unable to absorb students, there is an opportunity for New Zealand to develop a reputation as a good value, high quality language course springboard to a university education in Australia, New Zealand or Britain.'
With many governments around the world investing in attracting overseas students to their tertiary education institutions, the LAP sector of the market will continue to remain important. In those non-English language destinations just discovering the potential of education export, demand will grow. In the English language markets, growth may slow down, but as Killick forecasts, institutions will be catering to a more discerning clientele, while specialisation within programmes will need to continue.
LAP programmes - are they worth it?
Compared to general English language courses, LAP programmes come with a premium price tag. But they not only provide students with the necessary language skills but also help them learn new skills to be able to adapt to the different academic culture.
For example, Marlena Hess-Karam, Director of the American Language Programs (ALP) in the USA, explains, 'ALP does a lot of training... to encourage foreign students to speak up more in class and [help them] be able to make presentations publicly.'
According to Agent Hiroya Takagi of SAS Study Abroad Specialists in Japan, learning presentation skills is one of the most important features of an LAP programme. Soonhee Park at Vision Educational Consulting/Camel Travel in Korea says that 'note-taking and writing skills and letting [students] get familiar with the subjects that they are going to study' are the most useful aspects. Nevertheless, he adds that the effectiveness of the courses really depends on the school and the student.
Some students try to cut corners by enrolling on an exam preparation programme instead of an LAP to give them the required Ielts or Toelf score, but language providers are adamant that LAP is worthwhile, if not essential to success. 'With a pure Ielts course, students may get the Ielts score they need but may not be ready for university,' argues Darren Conway of Languages International in New Zealand. 'It makes more economic sense to spend a little more time doing a comprehensive EAP course, rather than doing a quick Ielts course and then failing the first year at university.'
Lorraine Marigold of Vancouver Community College in Canada notes that demand for their EAP programme is growing 'as students are discovering that a Toefl [score of] 550-plus is insufficient to succeed in Canadian universities'.
Kelly Franklin of Maryville College and the Center for English Language Learning in the USA agrees with Marigold. 'More students are realising that Toefl scores alone do not guarantee any ability to succeed in university classes.' She adds that this is a particular problem in China, where '[student] finances are more of an issue, and where they have not heard as much about the differences in educational styles that require special skills such as giving oral reports or compositions'.
This, according to Marigold, will hamper growth of the LAP market. 'There will always be a market for the best students [who take LAP] but some will choose to take the English entrance tests like Toefl, no matter what,' she says. 'I expect the market to remain about the same but [the number of Toefl test-takers] to grow.'