LONDON: Students from India and other former colonies have better English language skills compared to their local British counterparts, academics feel.
Many undergraduates in British universities have such low competence with spelling, punctuation and grammar that despairing lecturers often spend time teaching the basics of English to the English.
Lecturers say that international students from India and other former colonies often have higher standards of basic English than their British colleagues in the same classroom.
Some of the most common mistakes are in spelling, often using 'their' when students mean 'there', 'who's' for 'whose', 'truely' for 'truly', 'occured' for 'occurred' and 'speach' for 'speech'.
An Indian-origin university lecturer said that British students even in their second year of degree study, use "atrocious" English language in their assignments.
He said that he often found it challenging to figure out what students wanted to express in English. International students, in contrast, had better English language skills, he added.
English language standards have deteriorated to such an extent that one leading academic has been forced to ignore common errors altogether.
Ken Smith, a senior lecturer in criminology at Bucks New University, told The Daily Telegraph that many students failed to apply basic rules, such as 'i' before 'e', except after 'c'. The words 'weird', 'seize', 'leisure' and 'neighbour' are regularly misspelt by students, he said.
Some universities have already extended courses by a year to give weak students extra tuition in core subjects that they failed to pick up in the classroom.
Bernard Lamb, a Reader in genetics at Imperial College London, said those from Singapore and Brunei made fewer mistakes in their work, despite speaking English as a second language.
Many British students appear to have been through school without mastering basic rules of grammar and punctuation, or having their errors corrected, he said.
Writing in the Times Higher Education magazine, Smith said mistakes were now so common that academics should simply accept them as "variants".
He wrote: "Teaching a large first-year course at a British university, I am fed up with correcting my students' atrocious spelling. But why must we suffer? Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea.
University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell, he added.
Jack Bovill, chairman of The Spelling Society, said "All the data suggests that there are more and more students at university level whose spelling is not up to scratch. Universities are even finding they have masters-level students who cannot spell."
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