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GENERIC SKILLS: ASSESSMENT PRE-ENTRY OR DEVELOPMENT POST-ENTRY

J. van der Meer, J. Kokaua

University of Otago (NEW ZEALAND)
As many universities around the world open their doors to larger numbers of students, with a wider diversity of backgrounds, there is a commensurate increase of concerns raised about the skills students bring with them. Pre-entry high school qualifications are not always deemed sufficient evidence to testify to students’ possession of more generic skills such as literacy or communication. In both Australia and New Zealand, concerns have been raised about young adults whose literacy skills may have been inadequately developed for tertiary study or professional life. Many universities now test students post entry for adequate literacy competence.

Whereas there is a general concern about the generic skills of students entering university, this is amplified for health professional courses. A range of admissions tools are increasingly used for entry into these courses. Admission to health professional programmes is typically high stakes and increasingly cognitive tests are used for selection. Selection tools are used to “screen in” students who are most likely to complete their studies, to rank applicants, to “screen out” students who don’t possess the desired attributes, and to ensure diversity and competence to contribute to the health professional needs of the communities they will be working in.

With the increase of international student enrolments in English medium universities in Australasia, communication problems associated with English language proficiency are not unexpected. Research has shown that lack of English fluency, particularly vocabulary, is clearly a barrier to effective communication (Dunworth, 2009; Evans & Cable, 2011; Fenton-Smith, 2012; Harvard University, 2013; Lee, et al., 2013; Oliver, et al., 2012; Storch, 2008; Wette & Hawken, 2011) and can result in low participation in class discussions and an inability to communicate clearly with lecturers (McLean, et al., 2012). Such communication problems are often evident in the very early stages of medical education, and Rich et al. (2012) note that in New Zealand, international dentistry students are “more than nine places behind the average domestic student in the second year” (p. 33).

In this presentation, I will discuss the tension between attempts to assess generic skills such as literacy and communication prior to entry to health professional courses, and the question whether these skills should be developed post entry in an authentic way that reflects the specific context of the different health professions in particular communities. I will draw on data and research from the Australasian context.