International students make a vital academic, economic and cultural contribution to the UK’s higher education sector, but whose responsibility is it to make them feel welcome? The British Council’s Zainab Malik, writes (September 11, 2014) about the Council's research on the matter.
Why the opinion of home students on international student ‘integration’ matters
A UK university campus will be a temporary home to people from all over the world, and few UK students will again have the experience of living and learning in such a multicultural environment. Much has been written regarding international student integration (which can be defined as the process through which international students participate in university life as valued and essential parts of the student body, whilst maintaining their cultural identities). However, until now, little has been said about the views of the home students on this significant issue. To call it a significant issue is not an exaggeration. For example, British Council research has shown that international students view integration into university communities as essential to personal safety, one of the top considerations in choosing a study-abroad destination.
With the removal of the cap, in 2015, on how many UK undergraduates a university can recruit, many are predicting growth in domestic enrolments. In some institutions this could have a large effect on the ratio of home to international student, and consequently affect the cultural balance on campus.
Home students are ‘overwhelmingly positive’ about their international counterparts
The British Council's latest research, 'Integration of international students: A UK perspective', aims to understand the home student view on integration. The Council found the responses to a survey of 2,632 UK-domiciled students to be overwhelmingly positive, with 74 per cent of students stating that they believed international students are welcomed in the UK.
The results also suggested that home students with friends who are international students are more likely to hold positive perceptions of and value engagement with international students. It is heartening to see UK students indicating that, the more interaction they have with international students, the more they appreciate and welcome them.
However, perhaps the most compelling outcome was that 76 per cent of students stated it is everyone’s responsibility to make international students feel welcomed.
The advantages of integrating international students are huge
It makes sense that the benefits of an integrated international student community are shared and, therefore, so should the responsibilities. What, then, are some of the advantages of integration? On the individual level, international students contribute to the UK’s knowledge and culture, allowing all students to expand their personal perspectives and cultivate contacts for the future. One study suggests that integration contributes positively to an international student’s academic achievement. In the classroom, the internationalism essential to higher education is more effective when student contributions from diverse backgrounds supplement the teaching. At the institutional level, perhaps the most consequential impact is that, without international students, select postgraduate courses may no longer be cost-effective to deliver. Nationally, benefits range from increased research networks to the economic outcomes of increased trust between nations, as evidenced by a 2013 research paper by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
How can home students welcome international students even more?
The British Council understands from its research that home students are happy to take some of the responsibility for welcoming international students, but perhaps need the help of the institution to further engage with international students through well-supported social clubs, mentorships and diverse residence halls. While staff must ensure that they employ teaching techniques that are inclusive, institutions should also promote support staff who come into contact with international students. This means that international officers should set realistic expectations at the time of recruitment, career services officers should have a basic knowledge of a student’s home-country career prospects, and counsellors should be able to bring up social issues to do with international students, alongside their academic ones.
Integrating international students into the home community is fundamental to internationalising higher education. We must recognise that a commitment to one means a commitment to the other. The benefits of integration are undeniable, both in the short- and long-term, and — as the vast majority of UK-domiciled students said — it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure international students are welcomed and accepted.