Welcoming International Students

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 Great ideas for fostering inclusion and providing targeted support

International students are crucial to every university in Britain, and many FE colleges as well. It’s not just the money they bring in: their perspectives and experiences enrich our programmes, inform native students, and contribute to the quality of scholarship.

But being an international student can be difficult, and some universities are better than others at welcoming, including and supporting them. The following strategies can help you improve practice where you work.

Accurate, informative advice before students arrive.

Students want to know what it’s really like to be on your campus, in your community, and part of your academic programme. Newcastle University makes fantastic use of video alongside text and direct contact to make sure prospective students know what to expect.

Pre-sessional programmes that work.

Pre-sessional programmes tend to focus on students whose English proficiency needs to be brought up to the appropriate IELTS level, but most international students need guidance about how to get involved in campus life, plus practical help with things like housing. It’s also important for students to make strong links with the programme they will join after the pre-sessional course, and with British students and staff, while they work on their English. This will help raise conversational proficiency, and discourage the tendency to socialise and work only with students from their nation of origin.

So, make sure your pre-sessional programme includes inducements to join student clubs and societies, participate in the Students Union, and attend programme events.

Understand that there are many kinds of international students.

International students come in many types and have different needs. Young undergraduates face the same issues as all freshers—but with culture shock and extra homesickness on top.

Erasmus students and other exchange students are older, and only on campus for a term or so. They need a rapid introduction to campus life and a structured plan to help them make the most of their experience.

Postgraduate students come to become professionals, and benefit from direct experience of UK workplaces in their chosen field. Build in as many site visits, employer talks, and mentoring opportunities as you can, with a focus on making these especially relevant to students who want to take what they learn back to their home country. Links via alumni groups with past students who have returned and made successful careers are fantastic for recruitment, retention and troubleshooting problems that may occur.

Many international students have partners and families. Recent changes to UK rules are making life increasingly difficult for non-EU students, and many universities do a poor job of signposting mature internationals to the help they need to get their children into school, find family housing, and help relocated spouses. The University of Exeter provides free English classes for spouses, and targeted information.

Internationalise what you offer.

Programmes that assume all graduates will be working in the UK do a disservice to international and British students alike. Staff can be supported to add international perspectives and data to their courses, and to take steps like pairing international students with British mentors. Sheffield University have taken great strides in this area.

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