Shaheen, Nisbah (2012) International Students at UK Universities: Critical Thinking- Related Challenges to Academic Writing. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Universities in the UK host considerable numbers of international students pursuing higher degrees, which raises questions about the extent of their adaptation to a new academic environment. Critical thinking is a key skill expected of university graduates in the British education system, and it has been an increasing focus of attention in recent years. Concerns about international students’ lack of critical thinking in academic writing have been raised by teaching professionals. A review of previous literature shows that little research has been undertaken on issues related to critical thinking for a culturally and linguistically diverse range of students. Furthermore, in those research studies which have been undertaken, the learner’s voice has not been clearly evident. The present thesis, therefore, seeks to explore the problems faced by international students with regard to their approaches towards critical thinking, often derived from their previous cultures where people prefer a collective style of learning rather than an individual one, and where they respect and avoid criticizing the work of other scholars.

The experiences of international students studying at two British universities were investigated by means of face-to-face individual interviews, self-reports, learners’ diaries and a case study, based on qualitative data. As a result of these findings, it was clear that the students held various conceptions of critical thinking which were based on their socialization and either their present experience of the practice of these intellectual skills, or the absence of this practice in their respective cultures. Majority of the students were found to choose surface rather than deep learning strategies. The analysis of data revealed that students from non-Western traditions are very different in approaching critical thinking tasks such as formulating and evaluating arguments, analysing critically and making sound judgements etc. Particular features of their previous educational experiences were identified as major barriers in the students’ development of critical thinking. International students, in particular, felt that their previous educational background had not developed them in a way which encouraged them to think analytically and creatively. However, the analysis also highlights the fact that EAP language support programmes have been unable to address students’ specific academic writing needs in order to bridge the skills gap of culturally diverse student bodies. The indepth findings may support developments designed to enhance students’ experiences in the British context.

Overall, the present thesis investigates cross-cultural issues by providing explanations for specific areas of difficulty related to students’poor writing performance, as a result of the fact that critical thinking skills are crucial elements of the basic assessment tools in British universities. The thesis thus aims to make a modest contribution to broadening the understanding of international students’ problems and approaches towards critical thinking, and presents methods which may be useful to facilitate students’ learning experiences.

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