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  1. 1. Accountability of Higher Education to the Business Community Dr. Francine Robinson Holon Institute of Technology Holon, Israel “The goal of language curriculum development processes is to produce relevant, effective and efficient language teaching programs.” (Richards, 1984, p. 3) One of the first questions we must ask ourselves before beginning to teach an academic business English course is: What do the students need to learn? Do they need just academic English for present target needs? Do they need occupational English for future business needs? Or do they need both? Then we must ask: Who should make this decision? Which stakeholders should be involved in the design of these courses? If students are taught only present academic needs, are the academic institutions fulfilling their function by not preparing students for their future professions? In order to answer these questions, in the context of Israeli academic institutions, I will first tell you about the importance of the English language and English language learning in Israel, so that you can understand the historical, sociological and pedagogical importance of business English. Since the English language is so intertwined with Israeli society, it is crucial to determine whether students of higher education are receiving the necessary tools to cope. Historical Context English holds a prominent place in Israeli society: it is part of a status symbol, bearing connotations to American and Western culture. It is not only a necessary language for communication with the outside world, it is a language that confers legitimacy on its users; it is a belief in globalization. English is not only a need; it is a requirement for acceptance in Israel. English language learning officially dates back to the time of the British Mandate in Palestine after World War I. Although Hebrew and Arabic were the languages spoken in Israel at the time, the language of the rulers was English and therefore, English 1
  2. 2. became the language of government, education and mass communication and it was the most important subject in the high school syllabus (Lockard, 1998). Israel became more exposed to the Western world in 1967. There was increased immigration from English-speaking countries, improved tourism from and to Israel, and stronger economic and political ties to the United States, which led to a greater need of English. The world of mass communication and hi-tech also made English essential. English Teaching in the Educational System The Israeli Ministry of Education, realizing the significance of English in all facets of Israel society, stated in 1988: “[English is] the principal means of international communication today… a World Language” (Ministry of Education, 1988, pp. 5-6). Further, in 1996, The Policy for Language Education in Israel decreed that English was Israel’s first foreign language. In fact, students cannot receive a high school diploma, nor enter an academic institution, without passing the matriculation exam in English. At present, English is mandatory from primary school through 12th grade, and in university (for those who have not received an exemption) (Hallel and Spolsky, 1993). In 2001, a new English curriculum was introduced into the Israeli school system. The goals of this curriculum are to set standards in four domains: social interaction, access to information, presentation, and appreciation of literature, culture and language. Institutions of Higher Education Even though most pupils study English from primary through high-school, many students enter academic institutions without the necessary exemption, and must take extra courses. A considerable gap exists between the high school and the academic English syllabus. While high school students are taught reading of popular texts, writing, listening and speaking skills, higher education emphasizes, to the exclusion of all other skills, the reading of academic texts. 2
  3. 3. I want to emphasize that the English language department in higher education is considered a service, rather than an academic, department. This means that English is relegated to a minor position in the course of studies. Students view these courses as a necessary burden. Furthermore, in many institutions, the final grade in English is not calculated into the students’ average. Therefore, most students merely want to “pass”. In addition, the administration views English as an obstacle to some students who need to graduate, since these students may have finished all their required course study except for English. This presents a significant economic burden on the institutions. Since Israeli students are usually older than their counterparts in other countries, they are anxious to finish their course study as soon as possible. They immediately enter the job market, if they haven’t started working already, and expect their academic courses, including English, to be more goal oriented, so they do not have to take additional courses after graduation. English academic courses in Israel are reading comprehension courses, requiring the reading of syllabus dictated academic texts and answering follow-up questions. In many institutions few, if any, speaking, listening and writing skills are taught or tested. On the other hand, most companies prefer candidates who have already acquired these skills, if for no other reason, than to save the employer the burden of paying for an English course. In fact, many places of business test potential employees on their oral and written English skills before they are accepted for the job. Unfortunately, although a student may complete the obligatory English academic course with the highest of grades, s/he may lack the English skills that are indispensable in the business community, and may not be hired. If the necessity for English is paramount in Israeli life, then Israeli students should be receiving the necessary skills to succeed in this environment. We must then ask: Should we hold higher education accountable for the preparation of students for the “outside world”? 3
  4. 4. The Importance of English in the Israeli Business World It is impossible to minimize the importance of English in Israel: shops advertise their names in both Hebrew and English, or sometimes just in English; restaurant and street signs are in English. Furthermore, Hebrew vocabulary has been anglicized to the extent that many words such as telephone, TV, video, and more have been entirely borrowed from English, even though there may be comparable Hebrew words. English is also used as 'neutral territory' in debates, discussions, forums and cultural activities between Arabs and Jews. The multinational companies in Israel prefer employees with English reading, writing and conversational skills. Also, Israeli businesspeople travel abroad and foreign businesspeople come to Israel, which necessitates both business and social English skills. Hi-tech, one of Israel’s most important sectors, demands the knowledge of all English skills. Therefore, employees should have acquired the necessary business English skills during their academic studies, since the knowledge of English may make the difference between being hired or fired. It is for these reasons that higher education should be accountable to all stakeholders regarding business English courses. Accountability What is interesting is that in Hebrew, until recently, there was no precise definition for accountability, although accountability is a common term in English. The Alcalay Hebrew-English Dictionary (p. 28) defines 'accountability' as ‘‫( ’אחריות‬achrayut). However, the Hebrew word ‫( אחריות‬achrayut) (p. 63) is defined in English as 'surety, warranty, guarantee, responsibility, liability, and insurance'. In the definition of Hebrew to English the word accountability does not appear. Recently the word ‘ ‫( ’דיווחית‬divuchit), from the Hebrew root'‫( 'דווח‬divuach), meaning ‘reporting’, began to connote accountability. The question therefore arises as to whether the lexical void in Hebrew implies a lack of awareness of accountability? Does the lack of the word imply the lack of the act? Does the coinage of a new lexeme imply a new awareness 4
  5. 5. in Israel? Can we now expect more attention to be paid to accountability? If so, have institutions of higher education in Israel been affected by this change? In demanding that the academic institutions provide occupational English skills to their students, we are saying that these institutions must be accountable to those stakeholders who have an interest in business English courses. The question then arises, who are these stakeholders? The three stakeholders are: the educator, those that employ the educator, and those for whom the course is designed – in other words - the institutions of higher education, the business community and the students. Then we must ask: What is accountability? Although there are many explanations and conditions for accountability, I have chosen one that is best suited to our purposes: accountability implies “a statement of explanation of one's conduct; a statement or exposition of reasons, causes, grounds or motive [and] being obligated or subject to giving an account" (Wagner, 1989, p. 138). There are two conditions necessary to establish obligations of accountability. The first condition is a responsibility on the part of academic institutions to the stakeholders involved in business English courses. The second condition entitles these stakeholders (academic institutions, students and the business community) to receive some form of accounting. These two conditions, responsibility and entitlement, involve a give and take on the part of all the stakeholders (Wagner, 1989). Why should higher education be held accountable? Higher education today is expected to give practical training of effective skills for employment (Toohey, 1999). Furthermore, higher education must be aware of the job market and its needs (Elbaz, 2000). Since the business world is globalized, and English is the language of globalization, higher education is forced to meet the needs of the globalized business world and supply this need to their students in order to educate for superior human resources. Who should be responsible for the accounting? Accountability entails that information from the institutions must be provided to those who benefit from the courses and that necessary changes must be made when needed (Popham, 1973). Therefore, a system 5
  6. 6. of checks and balances between the stakeholders must be maintained and courses should be periodically examined, analyzed and revised. If course design is solely the responsibility of academic institutions, courses would rarely take into consideration the needs of the students and the business community. Academic institutions should be accountable to students for the quality and relevancy of the students’ education, and to the business community for the quality and content of the courses. How should higher education be accountable to its stakeholders?  Accountability of higher education to itself depends upon whether the institution’s objectives are being fulfilled, whether these objectives are suitable to the course of study, whether effective action is taken to achieve these objectives and how objectives are being measured.  Accountability of higher education to its students depends upon how the institutions perceive the student community, whether the institutions answer the students’ future employment needs, whether students participate in determining course study and whether the knowledge transmitted and generated by the institutions serves the student body.  Accountability of higher education to the business community depends upon priorities imposed by the business community on higher education and how they affect business English, elements of collaboration between the business community and the institutions, and business community’s expectations from higher education. (Neave, 2000, p. 4; Bligh et al, 1999, p. 37; and Nakamura, 2000, p. 81). 6
  7. 7. Research This study investigates the accountability of Israeli academic institutions to all stakeholders involved in business English courses. Three groups of stakeholders were questioned: 150 students and thirty-one teachers from six institutions and thirty-one business people from 31 companies. All teachers teach business English, and students were business administration students from the same institutions. Quantitative data was collected through questionnaires and qualitative data consisted of interviewing six representatives from each stakeholder group. The questionnaires were coded numerically to assure anonymity and the data were analyzed using SPSS statistical software. Profession – business people 30 23 23 20 19 16 16 10 Percent 3 0 Business Banks Investment Pharmaceuticals Hi-Tech Marketing Non-Profit Organizat The business people worked in banks, hi-tech industries, investment companies, marketing companies, pharmaceutical companies and non-profit organizations. All of these companies are either multi-nationals or have globalized business dealings that require English. 7
  8. 8. Do you administer a needs analysis during the course? 120 100 97 80 60 40 Percent 20 0 Teachers yes no A needs analysis is essential in order to determine whether the needs of all the stakeholders are being taken into consideration during course design. Only one out of 31 teachers administered a needs analysis to students. he interviews demonstrated that teachers were not fully aware of needs analysis construction. No teacher gives a needs analysis to the business community. Some teachers felt that it was impractical to give a needs analysis to students; it gives students too much “autonomy”; “they don’t understand what they have to learn”; “they don’t see the real world skills” and “needs analysis turns out to be a preference and once you give it to them you have to act on it”. It is interesting to note that two out of the five students interviewed did not think that a needs analysis was necessary because it has “no real meaning” and because “everyone will answer differently”. However, one student did feel that it was a “good idea” since “if the students write what they actually feel perhaps the teacher will do something about it”. The majority of the business people felt that the business community should be questioned, and that their opinions may be more beneficial than those of the students. 8
  9. 9. Do you administer an evaluation? 120 100 97 80 60 Percent 40 20 0 Teachers yes no An evaluation of business English courses enables verification about whether these courses are actually meeting the goals of all the stakeholders. It is also important that appropriate action is taken once the results are evaluated. Only one teacher out of 31 teachers conducted a course evaluation. During the interviews teachers’ felt that the ideal is to ask the students once they’ve entered the job market if this course really helped them in the real world. One businessperson felt that there should be a “constant dialogue between the educators and the business community … It may be good to bring a representative from the business community to test the students and then tell the teachers what’s missing from the course”. He also felt that an evaluation should only be given once the student started working at a place of work. Four out of five students felt that it was important to have an evaluation at the end of the course. In fact, one student felt that there should be mid-course evaluations in order to improve the current course. 9
  10. 10. How often are courses revised? 70 68 60 50 40 30 32 20 Percent 10 0 Teachers every 2-5 years rarely A revision of courses can take place in response to a needs analysis or a course evaluation. Although 21 of the 31 teachers revise course material every two to five years, teachers were not aware of why course material was revised. The reactions of the students were: “The administration will make some minor changes, but they will not make any major course changes”; “No one in the administration will pay attention. . .” Three out of five business people felt that they were not familiar enough with academic institutions and the way policy is made to answer this question. 10
  11. 11. English is a necessity in the Israeli business community. 100 87 80 60 61 49 40 34 29 group type 20 students Percent 14 teachers 10 0 6 business strongly agree agree neither agree nor disagree strongly disagree As you can see the majority of all three stakeholders ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ with this statement – 97% of teachers; 83% of students and 90% of business people. When interviewed, all three stakeholders mentioned that English is of the utmost importance in the business world. One teacher said that it is the “language of international communication; the language of business”. One business person stated that Israeli companies are becoming globalized and English is the first or the only common language. Students also felt that English is essential. 11
  12. 12. Business English should be taught in institutions of higher education. 100 94 94 80 83 60 40 group type students Percent 20 17 teachers 0 6 6 business yes no It is important to determine who should take the responsibility for teaching business English. The results show that 83 percent of the students and 94 percent of both teachers and business people agreed that institutions of higher education should teach business English. Business communication skills If institutions of higher education are responsible for business English courses, it is necessary to determine which English skills are needed and which are actually being taught. In an investigation conducted by St. John (1996), the following were identified as business skills needed for business companies: (St. John, 1996, p.6) Listening/Speaking Reading/Writing Telephoning Corresponding Socializing Report writing Giving presentations Taking part in meetings Negotiating 12
  13. 13. Subjects included in English courses and subjects for employment. Teachers: What subjects were included in English courses? Business Community: What English subjects are necessary for work? Subject Teachers Business Problem 19.4% 83.9% Solving Business 54.8% 93.5% Vocabulary Writing 22.6% 77.4% Conversation 38.7% 90.3% Presentation 38.7% 93.5% Correspondence 3.2% 93.5% Meetings and 80.6% Negotiations Reading 100.0% 77.4% Grammar 22.6% 54.8% This is an expanded list of the business English skills, compiled from suggestions by all three stakeholders. Over 90 percent of the business people questioned chose four out of the nine skills: business vocabulary, conversation, presentation and correspondence. Business vocabulary is the only skill that was not included in St. John’s list. The only subject chosen by all teachers was reading, and the only subject chosen by over 50% of the teachers was business vocabulary, subjects not included in St. John’s list. This shows a discrepancy between what is perceived as needed and what is taught. Institutions are only taking into consideration present academic needs. 13
  14. 14. Students: Which subjects should be included in English courses  Problem Solving - 86.0%  Business Vocabulary - 94.0%  Writing - 85.3%  Conversation - 96.0%  Presentation - 92.0%  Correspondence - 96.7%  Meetings and Negotiations - 96.0%  Reading - 95.3%  Grammar - 66.7% The students’ answers imply their lack of ability to discern between subjects, since over 85 percent of all students chose all subjects except for grammar (66.7%). Also, students may be designating their wants and desires rather than their needs (Chambers, 1980). When students were interviewed they stated that all skills should be included in English courses. However, the students emphasized that oral skills should be taught since these are necessary for future employment. Although this may illustrate that students may not be capable of actually designing courses, we can assume that students definitely want to be taught future occupational skills. 14
  15. 15. Should the business community be consulted concerning business English courses? 120 100 97 94 80 60 40 group type 20 Percent teachers 0 6 business yes no Since the business community is one of the stakeholders, and probably the only one, who can provide relevant information as to occupational needs, it should be necessary to consult them before designing the courses. No institution, or any individual teacher, consults the business community. Results clearly show that most teachers do not feel that it is necessary to consult the business community, while business people do feel that they should be included. While the academic institutions believe that these should stress academic reading skills to the exclusion of all other skills, the business community feels that their prospective employees should be taught occupational skills. Although businesspeople stated that they did not feel they were capable of making pedagogical or methodological decisions, their input could help with course content for future employment needs. As one business person put it: “Methodology and materials should be determined by educators; input into course design should come from the business community.” All students saw the business community taking a part in course design. Some felt the students should not be involved, but all saw the teachers taking an active pedagogical role and making the final decision. Therefore, students were more aware than teachers of the contribution the business community could make. 15
  16. 16. Conclusion: Are the Institutions Accountable? Do business English courses answer students’ academic needs? 50 40 40 39 35 34 30 20 15 Percent 13 group type 10 10 9 Students 3 3 teachers 0 strongly agree neither agree nor strongly disagree agree disagree Teachers are solely teaching for academic needs, and the institutions are ignoring business needs, and even failing to consult with the business community. In the questionnaire, 49% of students strongly agree or agree that business English courses answer academic needs. However, when interviewed, all students were emphatic concerning the fact that they did not learn anything in English. “Waste of time” and “no improvement” described most of their feelings. One teacher said that students “do not know what their long term needs are” and they just want to finish the course with a decent grade. Teachers also felt that if they teach more business skills, then students may be more willing to study English and feel that they have gained important skills. 16
  17. 17. English courses provide future employment skills for students. 60 55 50 45 40 39 30 29 24 25 group type 20 16 16 16 students 10 10 teachers 8 6 3 5 3 0 business strongly agree neither strongly disagree agree disagree 44% of students felt that they are not receiving future employment skills, in contrast to 19% of teachers and business people. This indicates a general dissatisfaction on the part of the students However, a proportionally large percentage of teachers and business people - 55% and 45% respectively - had no opinion regarding future professional needs. This shows that neither group is aware of, or familiar with, subject material required by the business community and subject material being taught by the academic institutions. All students interviewed felt that they did not gain anything from the course as far as future occupational English skills. 17
  18. 18. One teacher said that she just fulfilled academic needs, since this is what the course demanded. Business people felt that the educational system has an obligation to teach English for the professional world, and does not do this. Results and Recommendations According to this study, academic institutions only teach present academic and not future professional needs and teachers are unaware of future occupational needs. Since there is no evidence of needs analysis and evaluation being administered, there is no way to assess student and business needs and measure whether courses fulfill these needs. There is also no way to determine whether the knowledge generated and transmitted by the institutions serves the students in their future occupations. Although most students agree that learning English is a necessity, they do not believe that business English courses provide them with the necessary tools to cope in the business world and, therefore, feel that they have “wasted their time” and have gained little or nothing from the course. Furthermore, there is no collaboration between the business community and the institutions; therefore the institutions are unaware of the business community’s expectations regarding business English courses. One recommendation involves broadening involvement which entails inviting guest lecturers from the business community to give courses in English in areas that are pertinent and relevant to business needs. The English teachers could reinforce these lectures by teaching relevant vocabulary and texts. In order to create a dialogue between the business and academic community a consulting group of representatives from each community can be set up. Updates and revisions of course material can be prepared every two to four years, relying on evaluations and discussions with the business community and input from the other two stakeholders. Needs analysis, evaluation and course improvement will also lead to more accountable courses in the following ways: 18
  19. 19. A needs analysis should be conducted during the student’s last year of studies, since, by this time, students will be familiar with the needs of the academic institution. This analysis will be beneficial for incoming students. The business community should be questioned approximately every two to four years. Since it is impossible to interview the whole business community, a core of representatives from various business fields can be chosen to participate. Students should be tracked after completion of studies and upon entering their places of business, and then an evaluation of academic business courses should be administered. Each institution should take upon itself to follow approximately 20 students and administer an evaluation every two to four years. Once evaluations are analyzed, courses can then be revised or totally changed according to the results. Improvement can only come through awareness of stakeholders’ needs through evaluations. Ongoing consultation with the business community should take place. Constant teacher training seminars for those who teach business English courses, so as to update teachers on business concepts, vocabulary and theories, should be required of the teachers. Mini-seminars should be provided for teachers in various communicative skills, such as presentation and negotiation, so that teachers become familiar with specific teaching methodology. Many institutions are initiating Executive BA programs, which is a combined work- study program. Courses are geared toward the professional knowledge that students need at their place of work. By creating a productive partnership with the business community, academic institutions can meet learning needs as well as understand the business infrastructures that support these educational models and share the responsibility of producing effective employees. There is a great deal of trial and error involved in course development, however, positive outcomes will guarantee a more motivated student body and a more effective employee. Once institutions adopt these measures they will become more accountable to the stakeholders involved in business English courses. 19
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