What is it like to be an international student? Universities are eager to accept our fees – but are they doing enough to support young people who come from far away to study in the UK?


According to Shreya Paudel, currently the International Students Officer of the NUS, writing in The Guardian (September 12, 2013), the international student body, which contributes £8bn a year to the UK economy, is made up of the sons and daughters of elite families, as well as those of poor parents who scrimped and saved to get them to the UK.

Paudel says that for the latter, life is a struggle, as they do not have a a family in the UK to call on for help.  He believes that poor international students are vulnerable and overlooked.

Paudel is a Nepalese student, studying international politics at Middlesex University in London. He believes that studying in London is a great experience because there is the opportunity to meet people from all over the world.

And so do the famous landmarks according to Paudel. He says he was thrilled to see that London Bridge – which he knew from nursery rhymes – was not in fact "falling down" but structurally stable.

Of course the world class education that awaits overseas students is the main reason for them to set foot in the UK. But, it is not always easy for many international students and the fairy tale can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Paudel says that he lived alone in a dreary box room for two years because of limited finances.  Every day he faced a long commute from university to his accommodation.

But he still thinks that he was lucky. Another Nepalese student, Suresh, turned up to his college only to find that it was housed in a single flat.  He felt tricked.

Suresh says that what he had seen on the internet was completely different from what he found when he arrived here.  He could not study in this college after he had visited it. He did not think that the teachers were good enough and nor was the infrastructure appropriate for a college. Suresh admits that he lost his will to study.  But along with his will he also lost the £5,000 that his parents had invested in him.

The regulations in place by the government for private colleges is not sufficient and for students like Suresh there is no way to complain. Suresh and his family will not see their £5,000 again.

Gita is another international student with a bad experience.  University in the UK was not what she had been expecting either. Gita says: "There was no chance of doing well in studies from that college. I could not go back to India. What would I say to my friends and family, that the college in one of the richest countries in the world was not worth a penny?"

Kala Opusunju, from Nigeria, has experienced financial problems and not surpringly, had emotional problems as well.  Her main challenges, she says, have been related to being alone as she misses her family to encourage or support. To make matters worse, she was unable to find work to earn some money to pay her bills.  This left her solely dependent on the income that her parents sent her from Nigeria.

Kala says: "I wish I had family in the UK to visit, stay with once in a while and go to in times of need. Most of my fellow Nigerians said they experienced depression moments after their arrival in London."

One of the problems faced by international students is that they have little or no access to emergency funds. This puts them in a vulnerable position. Paudel believes that international students should be able to access emergency loans or funds like home students.  This would help international students.

Belinda Okuya , student advice co-ordinator from Middlesex students' union, says:

"I see many students who have suffered hardship, such as homelessness. They have financial problems because of the increased cost of living, and unexpected circumstances arising in their home country, resulting in their not being able to pay fees. I believe that the support structures in universities need to reflect the increased pressures that international students face."

Daniel Stevens, the former NUS international students officer puts the responsibility on the government.  He says that for poor international students or those that find serious problems with their institution, the struggle is vast. What makes matters worse is that there is rarely a safety net to fall back on or route for reprieve.  Stevens believes that the government needs to do more to ensure international students are adequately protected and to empower them to seek redress against institutions.

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