At a time when far-right movements are gaining prominence in many European countries, Brexit is a reality and fears over coronavirus, international students need to be actively welcomed more than ever, argues Pat Moores, Director and co-founder of UK Education Guide.
Across the globe there are, at best, ‘mixed messages’ from national governments about how welcome international students are, making the complex marketing exercise of attracting and then welcoming international students even more challenging.
In Australia, commentators worry that the sheer numbers of Chinese students, whose tuition fees constitute more than one-quarter of some universities’ earnings, pose a direct threat to academic freedom. Media stories portray Chinese students flexing their muscles on a range of issues, including the positioning of China’s border with India and, most recently, autonomy for Hong Kong. So, countries want the revenue from international students, but struggle sometimes with the challenges this approach also brings…
However, whilst there are increasing geopolitical tensions at the national level, every institution that recruits international students should be consciously making every effort to welcome these students with appropriate support.
It is encouraging to see Universities and schools questioning their approaches and trying new initiatives. For example, as the Guardian reported, Bournemouth University has made a conscious decision to bring home and international students together during fresher’s week.
“We used to have a separate induction programme for these students, but we felt that it was isolating them,” explains Mandi Barron, Bournemouth’s head of student services. “Now we just badge some events that we think would be particularly useful for international students, but non-international students are welcome to attend if they want.”
“We try not to focus on a homogenous group and more on individual needs,” says Barron. “Rather than having an international student’s department, we have a one-stop-shop service for all students, because if you’ve got an accommodation problem you’ve got an accommodation problem, and a complaint is a complaint, whether you’re international or British.”
This approach treats all students as having individual needs, rather than treating, for example, all Chinese students as one amorphous group, which can merely reinforce the isolation that many Chinese students experience.
At the boarding school level, many schools do understand how ‘bringing a bit of home’ into the lives of younger pupils can also be really important to them and help lessen the pain of separation from family and culture.
Food plays a vital role in this regard, importing ingredients that help make a ‘local’ dish truly authentic can make a huge difference to students. Brooke House College, Principal Mike Oliver says, “we import a Jasmine rice from Vietnam and purchased a couple of Vietnamese steam cookers to make the rice taste like how our Vietnamese students would expect it to taste at home”.
At Felsted school, every Friday night a different team of Upper 6th girls prepare a meal of their choice for their contemporaries to showcase their own food cultures. There have been added benefits to this approach, as Sufia Maguire, Felsted Housemistress points out; “The sharing of food has been wonderful but the telling of experiences and the answering of questions has created a real bond between the girls and helped inform about families and cultures”.
Often, it’s not the grand gestures that make a difference, but the thoughtful consideration of individual needs that makes the difference to the well-being of all pupils & students, both domestic and international…