Enhancing the international student experience – a UUK, UUKi and UKCISA event

Blog for members
16 November 2018
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Continuing our 50th celebrations in the week of International Students’ Day, this event gave delegates the opportunity to share experiences, challenges and insights into international student experience.
We heard examples from Anders Hagström is Director of Global Educational Affairs at ETH Zurich (currently ranked the second most international university in the world by THE) to learn how they support international students. He said that 

"Immigration is not easy in any country, and it's not getting easier."

But there are processes that should be followed, and if a student follows them step-by-step they should be successful. 
At ETH Zurich tuition fees are heavily subsidised with a block grant and all students, regardless of nationality, pay about £1000 a year to study there.

Our President, Lord Bilimoria joined the event, highlighting that more world leaders have been educated at UK universities than in any other country. He spoke about the recommendations in the latest APPG on International Students report and called for a target to increase the number of international students in the UK.

Paul Webley Award for International Education
This year we selected from 17 projects and research we funded over the last year through the UKCISA Grants Scheme:

University of Strathclyde was highly commended for their UKCISA project using  Lego Serious Play to engage international students, using practical building to encourage discussion and communication.

The winners of our Paul Webley Award were the Open University and University of Dundee  for their research examining international students’ social support networks as they transition to PhD study in the UK.  You can read Jenna’s blog at UUK.

Benchmarking: a picture of the sector
We released our headline benchmarking results about provision for international students which led many roundtable discussions about what we can learn from the data, including how to improve inclusivity. Delegates shared experiences about buddy networks that are set up between home and international students before students arrive in the UK as well as feedback on how important labelling is. While ‘international’ week may only appeal to international students, ‘global’ week is more inclusive.

We were also reminded that it’s okay if some students don’t engage. As long as they’re getting the education they wanted, we shouldn’t be imposing a social regime on them. The most important part is that they know what services are available and how to access them. The full benchmarking report will be released later this year.

Interactive breakout sessions
Interactive breakout sessions included playing a board game to help delegates put themselves in the shoes of an international student; Lego building as a way to improve international student participation and communication and discussing real cases about international student complaints.

The NUS boardgame was a great success; it highlighted how complicated (and frustrating) the application process can be for international students. The game is available to download (students’ unions will need to log in, so if you’re an institution ask them to do it!) or request a hard copy. Visit NUS Connect  and play with your colleagues!

Supporting the social transition experiences of international students
We heard from Jenna Mittelmeier, who led the award-winning STRIDE research. One of the key findings is that students really want better connections with staff. One student said: 

"I'd like my supervisor to know I'm not just a student, I'm a human being."

Jenna mentioned that it can be a challenge for academics to be teaching in a new way, classrooms are much more diverse than 10 years ago. She suggested that something as small as teaching academics to be able to pronounce names is a big step towards inclusivity. 

She gave some practical recommendations for increasing social connections, including:

  • Provide doctoral students inclusive physical spaces for working and socialising
  • Support the development of inclusive students-only communication spaces
  • Identify doctoral community leaders in the social network and provide with resource (time, space, funding etc)

The European student experience: managing the impact of Brexit

The day concluded with a panel of three EU students studying around the UK. They spoke candidly about how the vote to leave the EU made them feel. 

One student was due to start studying in the UK the summer after the referendum and said she spent all summer worrying that everyone ‘would hate [her]’. She said that the international student community made her feel welcome and at home, but no one mentioned Brexit during any welcome events.

Students cited their students’ unions as being incredibly important. They recommended that institutions and students’ unions really need to collaborate to reach students and get messages to them.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International closed the event. She said:

"All departments need to collaborate to make good on the promise we gave to international students. We can’t afford to be passive, we need to make sure we’re communicating and welcoming both current and prospective students."

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