According to Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), international students contributed £4.2 billion of tuition fee income – making up 12.7% of universities’ total income and 29% of fee income. They are a boon for institutions and a boon for local communities.
Their contribution goes far beyond the finances. Students from overseas bring skills, ability and investment and stimulate a multicultural academic environment which raises standards and innovation benefitting everyone.
We don’t know what this government plans on doing as regards including students in immigration numbers but competition for attracting these student can only become more fierce.
For the record we would strongly encourage the government to reconsider their current position and remove students from the immigration numbers. Reducing the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for international students is counter-productive and the very definition of national self-harm.
Once they do arrive, international students face academic, cultural and linguistic challenges that this presents challenges for all universities as international students are harder to engage; both before arriving and once they land on campus.
That means being more creative and innovative and so here are some of our thoughts.
START LONG BEFORE
Acclimatisation can start long before landing and “international students” are not a homogenous bunch – students from different countries/regions/backgrounds might need different support so communication is key.
Many universities welcome students when they arrive at the airport but engagement can start long before.
What can you do?
- Offer support services in a range of ways to overcome unwillingness, laziness or apathy. A buddy program or online facilities can be popular and effective.
- Buddy-programs – specifically when home students who have spent a year abroad become buddies for those who have just arrived – can help give these students a soft landing.
- Regular communication, not just on the “big things” but all the little niggles that make people feel out of synch are of huge value. Don’t underestimate cultural differences even between countries that share so much (Australia and Britain for example)
- Make induction a high priority and extend formal induction beyond freshers. Using a variety of tools to help students integrate means that people can get the help they need as they need it and when without awkwardness. Videos can be helpful and can cover a myriad of subjects
- Social media is a mixed bag, especially for students from countries with internet restrictions in place. Support student transition through familiar technologies is only possible for those students comfortable with twitter, snapchat, Facebook etc.
MIX IT UP
We often hear that international students and home students live in separate housing and attend different “mixers”. This leads to separate groups and communities existing in the same space and so cultural differences become entrenched and impossible to overcome.
Encouraging students to mix with home students and students from other countries helps bridge the culture gap and students feel more engaged with campus which in turn leads to better integration.
Different groups can’t just be thrown together in a room with a vain hope that friendships will form. Providing students with the platform to mix needs to be more active and experiential and opportunities can be everywhere.
What can you do?
- Academics can help a lot through encouraging study groups to be diverse. Mixing in an academic context can encourage the same in free time
- Encouraging students to connect through social media gives them an easy avenue to get the help they need. Once in Britain the ability to support students through social media can be powerfully effective and non-intrusive and different tools can be used to offer different types of support – youtube for “how to’s”, twitter to make announcements, snapchat to encourage sharing and so on
- JISC recently commented that delivering technology-enhanced learning experience for students is increasingly important in education. Using online resources, backed up by basic analytics offers you the opportunity to spot disengaged students. Experiment with new tools and offerings to see what works best on your campus.
INTERNATIONAL IS THE FUTURE
Students, across the world, are increasingly concerned about whether their studies will sufficiently prepare them for future success. Being globally aware is part of developing a competitive advantage. Employers need ‘global graduates’ with a global outlook to consider new opportunities and challenges.
These so-called “soft skills” and “emotional intelligence” are key and competencies like decision-making, leadership and communication skills can be best honed with international students who may think and believe differently. A fertile opportunity for all students to connect while developing key skills.
What can you do?
- Students are likely to internally struggle with the competing time pressures of needing to study hard and to interact socially (societies and leisure etc) so presenting opportunities which represent both can ease anxiety
- Onsite presentations and workshops about working internationally, networking, leveraging contacts and building international business can appeal to both home and international students.
- Enable communication and collaboration through events such as hacking days, “problem solving” sessions or lunch n’ learns
- Social media groups, based on specific themes can help students, of all backgrounds, engage more effectively with the digital technology at their disposal
Thinking creatively about the services and facilities available to international students can help enhance the student learning experience and aid the transition into learning. It can be disconcerting to come to new country with different norms and equally challenging for home students to adapt to cohorts of overseas students who might have different ideas and points of view.
University can be the ultimate catalyst for innovation, as the world moves ever faster, and all students and society, benefit enormously from students of different backgrounds understanding each other and raising each-other up.