USIA English Language Programs

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs


Report on Academic Specialist Visit to South Africa:
April 7 - 21, 1999

By Ivor Emmanuel, University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana; Kathleen Sellew, University of Minnesota;
and Betty Soppelsa, University of Kansas

About the Specialists

IVOR EMMANUEL has been the Director of the Office of International Student Affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the past 12 years. He holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Illinois and is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Organization and Leadership. His doctoral dissertation explored "The Role of Selected Faculty at the University of Illinois in the Academic Preparation of Graduate Students from Developing Countries." Dr. Emmanuel has served on several key professional development committees of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and is the Chair of NAFSA's 1999 annual conference.

KATHLEEN SELLEW is the Director of Faculty Services in the Office of International Programs at the University of Minnesota. She currently directs an Asian Development Bank Project in Papua New Guinea. Ms. Sellew holds an Ed.M. degree in administration, planning and social policy from Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She is the author of the World Education Series volume on the Dominican Republic and co-editor of a PIER (Projects in International Education Research) publication on Central America. She has served on several task forces of NAFSA related to credentials evaluation standards and methodologies, most notably the joint working group of NAFSA and the European Association for International Education. Ms. Sellew served as chair of ADSEC (NAFSA's admissions section), PIER, and was a USIA academic specialist in Venezuela in 1990.

BETTY SOPPELSA has been the Director of the Applied English Center at the University of Kansas for the past 19 years. She holds an M.A. degree in English from the Ohio State University. Soppelsa has written articles in the and the Journal of Intensive English Studies and the TESOL Quarterly .. She is the co-author, with Y. Kanaya, of the forthcoming American English Conversation Book and contributed a chapter to the publication Administration of English Language Programs edited by Fredrika L. Stoller and Mary Ann Christison. Ms. Soppelsa has served on several committees in NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and as chair of NAFSA's section for Administrators and Teachers in English as a Second Language. She is currently the Vice President for Member Relations of NAFSA. Ms. Soppelsa directed a summer institute for teacher trainers from East Central Europe and the NIS funded by USIA in 1995, and has served as a USIA academic specialist for the development of ESL programs and teacher training in Senegal, Tunisia, Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Areas of Specialization

  • English as a Second Language
  • International student services
  • Credentials evaluation and academic mobility


Trip Report

Emmanuel, Sellew and Soppelsa presented information to and participated in discussions with five groups of international educators drawn from the five regions established by the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA). The workshops were hosted by one university or technikon with invitations to educators from other universities and technikons in the region. Approximately 80 representatives from about 20 institutions of higher learning participated in the workshops. This substantial representation will allow for the "multiplier effect" to spread information throughout the higher ed institutions in South Africa.

Each U.S. academic specialist provided a variety of subject outlines and handouts. Publications were also contributed by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. In several venues, members of the host institution made presentations on related topics, thus extending the discussion. A frank and far-ranging discussion of the issues facing higher ed faculty and staff in South Africa took place at each site.

Workshop Schedule and Locations

  • 09 April : Pretoria, Vista University
  • 12 April : Johannesburg, Technikon SA
  • 14 April : Durban, University of Natal
  • 16 April : Port Elizabeth, University of Port Elizabeth
  • 19 & 20 April : Cape Town, University of Cape Town

While the specialists adjusted their presentations and comments to meet the specific needs of each group, a general schedule was followed at each site:

Sample Program at Each Site

  1. 09:00 - 09:05 Welcome and Opening by convenor for each center
  2. 09:05 - 10:30 Session One: English as a Second Language
    Chairperson: SA Counterpart: (5 min.)
    Main Speaker: Betty Soppelsa, University of Kansas
  3. 10:30 -11:00 Discussion
  4. 11:00 - 11:15 Tea
  5. 11:15 -12:45 Session Two: International Student Services
    Chairperson: SA Counterpart: (5 min.)
    Main Speaker: Ivor Emmanuel, University of Illinois
  6. 12:45 - 13:15 Discussion
  7. 13:15 - 14:15 Lunch
  8. 14:15 - 15:45 Session Three: Credentials Evaluation in a Changing Environment: Some Major Challenges
    Chairperson: SA Counterpart: (5 min.)
    Main Speaker: Kathleen Sellew, University of Minnesota
  9. 15:45 - 16:15 Discussion
  10. 16:15 - 16:30 Close

Issues Which Arose

General issues -- The context for international student recruitment and admissions, English as a Second Language and international student services varies from institution to institution in South Africa. Universities and technikons that operate in a distance, correspondence or continuing education format have very different needs from those with a campus and a residentially-based delivery system. There seem to be two major foreign student populations currently attending South African universities and technikons-non-degree "study-abroad" students and degree-seeking students from other countries in Africa, particularly from southern Africa. A smaller number of degree-seeking students from Europe and Asia also attend South African universities and technikons.. Most universities have a goal of enrolling 5% of their student body from SADC (Southern Africa Development Council) countries and are assessing ways to support a wide range of student needs. Some institutions do not consider SADC students as foreign students, and thus there are differences in the level of services provided to specific groups of students and the sense of fairness in the distribution of such services.

Because the higher education system is undergoing a major transformation and much is in transition, discussing international student recruitment, education, and services takes on political and practical importance in light of the large unmet need for higher education among disadvantaged South Africans. The tension created by the competing demands was voiced at several of the workshops by participants from both the traditionally advantaged and disadvantaged universities.

Although the three U.S. academic specialists represented large U.S. research universities with substantial international student populations, many of the same issues in internationalizing campuses are faced on both sides of the ocean by institutions of all sizes and types. This common ground made discussing specific services and issues easy and productive.

English as a Second Language - Workshop delegates were particularly interested in issues related to admitting students from non-English speaking backgrounds and providing instruction in English as a second or foreign language. Discussion of the curricular needs of non-native speakers of English and various published tests in ESL was central. There are currently no comprehensive intensive English programs in South African universities or technikons. Courses and tutorials are offered at some institutions and some faculty members consider it their responsibility to teach English along with academic material. There is also a substantial need for ESL courses for domestic students from non-English language backgrounds, and there was discussion concerning the different language learning needs of foreign students and domestic students for whom English is not the native language. Many participants were engaged in assessing the implications for those different learning needs, and the presentations and handouts offered a new way of thinking about those needs.

International Student Services - The academic specialist presentation provided information on the rationale for the creation and/or support of international student services. Key services and means of support were identified in the context of an established mission. Strategies for planning and for developing campus alliances were discussed. This information was complimented by an array of handouts that could serve as practical examples. International services are provided at varying levels at the universities and technikons represented at the IEASA/NAFSA workshops. Some institutions have dedicated offices, while others have services housed in student services units or other administrative units. As the group in Cape Town discussed the range of services, they felt the need to take an inventory of what was offered and assess those services with the goal of trying to establish a code of ethics and a standard level of services for institutions in that region. This may well serve as a model for institutions throughout the country. This was a major step in advocacy and professionalism for the group. A timeline has been put in place for the first steps.

Credentials Evaluation -The academic specialist presentation centered on the reasons for credential evaluation as part of the admissions process, strategies for credential evaluation, and the requirements for academic mobility worldwide. As part of the educational transformation in South Africa, curricula and degree programs are being assessed at all post-secondary institutions. Until now, there has been very little internal academic mobility. Students did not traditionally transfer from one university to another, and a pathway from a non-university tertiary institution, such as a technikon, to a university is very difficult. Interesting discussions took place regarding promotion of academic mobility internally as well as internationally. Policies that develop as a result of a national effort to standardize curricula and credentials will have a large influence on how South African universities can recruit and admit foreign students. Once that scheme is established, there will be a framework on which to base future decisions on the admission of foreign students.

Suggested Opportunities for Continuing Collaboration

The U.S. participants were impressed by the initiatives already taken to establish a network of international education professionals in South Africa. We tried to emphasize the importance of working together through this group as their own best resource for information and networking.

Both NAFSA and IEASA are interested in exploring continuing collaboration. In May, a meeting will be held between representatives of the two groups attending the NAFSA conference in Denver. There is a developing sense that similar, but more specialized, workshops to those just completed would be useful. We would suggest that the groups be divided by specialization, rather than region, to provide more comprehensive information and discussion. For example, separate workshops on English as a Second Language, establishing intensive English programs, foreign student advising, recruiting strategies, establishing exchanges with foreign partners, and credentials evaluation would be useful.

There is a perceived need to address the specific topic of establishing university-affiliated intensive English programs in South Africa. This emerged as a significant and immediate need. Academic specialists from the U.S. could provide critical assistance now in helping South African institutions develop screening procedures for non-native speakers of English and curricula for specialized courses to help them develop proficiency. Discussions should take place regarding the differing ESL needs of domestic students and foreign students.

Many individuals expressed a desire for internship or exchange programs for members of the international education staff at their institutions. The academic specialists acknowledged that their universities hosted international colleagues on an ad hoc basis for such purposes. Future exchanges of this type can be explored further. IEASA and NAFSA could play a role in this process.

A special resource issue exists for staff from the historically disadvantaged universities and technikons. Most cannot afford to participate in organized professional development opportunities provided by more established associations in the United States and Europe. Under the current situation, it is hard to imagine that a natural, ongoing collaboration can be developed without external funding. We encourage discussion on strategies for supporting staff at these institutions.


The U.S. academic specialists want to express their appreciation for the support they received for their visit to South Africa. The cooperation of the U.S. Information Agency, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and IEASA, the International Education Association of South Africa, made the trip a success. Logistical support from Cathy Siemonh, USIA-Washington, and Dee Parker, USIS-Pretoria, was excellent. Our opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with international educators from so many institutions in South Africa gave us a rare chance to understand the issues they face. We encourage continued dialogue between American educators and these institutions, so that international educational exchange can be strengthened.

Suggested Bibliography

Althen, G. 1995. Handbook of foreign student advising (rev. ed) Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Douglas, D., ed. 1990. English language testing in U.S. colleges and universities. Washington, DC: NAFSA.

Goodwin, C. D. and Nacht, M., 1983. Absence of decision: foreign students in American colleges and universities. New York, N.Y.: Institute of International Education.

Thullen, M., et al. 1997. Cooperating with a university in the U.S.A.: NAFSA's guide to university linkages for international educational exchange. Washington, DC: NAFSA.

Standards & policies in international education. a guidebook for policy development, professional conduct, and the continuing growth of international education. 1993. Washington, DC: NAFSA.

Recommended Links

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

NAFSA: Admissions

NAFSA: English as a Second Language


IELTS: International English Language Testing System

British Council Tests

University of Illinois, Office of International Student Affairs

University of Minnesota, Office of International Programs

University of Kansas, Office of International Programs

University of Kansas Applied English


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