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Teaching and Learning

English Language Proficiency


The Higher Education Threshold Standards Framework (2011) provides the legislative guidelines around English language proficiency (ELP). This includes the Course Accreditation Standards which set out the requirements placed on higher education providers. In particular Course Accreditation Standard 3.2 requires providers ensure that 'students who are enrolled are sufficiently competent in the English language to participate effectively in the course of study and achieve its expected learning outcomes'.

Course Accreditation Standard 5.6 states that providers are also required to 'demonstrate appropriate progression and completion rates. and students who complete the course of study have attained key graduate attributes including an appropriate level of English language proficiency'.

The specialised English that students encounter in their university studies is very different from everyday English. Proficiency in speaking, understanding, reading and writing English does not necessarily mean that students are equipped to study using English at university. This can be the case for students from backgrounds not traditionally associated with university study.

Development of ELP therefore, in a university context, applies equally to all students: those who speak English as their first language and those who speak a first language other than English.

SCU's ELP approach is based on the Good Practice Principles (Department of Education and Workplace Relations, 2009) and refers to students' ability to use the English language to communicate and make meaning in spoken and written contexts related to their university studies. This can include simple things like discussing work with fellow students, or complex tasks such as writing an academic essay or making an oral presentation to a professional audience.

The focus is on meaning and communication in a range of contexts, not just on whether or not a student produces 'correct' or grammatical sentences. The emphasis is on appropriateness in context rather than on prescriptive notions of correctness. Language is viewed as a resource for communicating meaning rather than as a set of rules which must be obeyed.  

Characteristics of English Language Proficiency

The table below provides guidance for supporting ELP by summarising key characteristics of good practice.


Applies to all students

The specialised English of university disciplines is very different from the kind of English encountered in everyday life. Many students need support to help them engage with academic English.

Is about communication, not rules

Language is seen as a resource for communication in context, not as a set of rules.

Integrated and embedded in curricula

An integrated, contextualised approach is most effective as it develop students' English language proficiency in the context of their studies, not as a remedial add-on.

Mixed method: No single magic bullet

ELP is best achieved through a variety of means such as embedding language development through curriculum design and assessment, targeted workshops within a unit, online resources linked to unit Blackboard sites, and targeted individual or group support

Readiness to engage with academic English can be assessed quickly

The SCU Academic Language Self-Assessment gives students the opportunity to gauge their readiness for the kinds of academic language they will encounter at university. This assessment is best done when students begin their studies but can be done at any time.

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