Why Internationalising Higher Education Provides a Better Student Experience
For young people growing up in the UK, higher education (HE) is often touted as the path to embark on if you are to reach your salary / lifestyle / dream-job goals. Alternative success routes, such as apprenticeships, are now gaining greater traction, but with 2.32 million students studying at UK higher education institutions (HEIs) in 2016-2017, university is still a crowd favourite destination at which to spend your formative years.
The 1.87 million students from the UK will often start their university life with a number of expectations and hopes – based on varying degrees of reality – that they’ve formed from open days, friend and relative testimonies, and media representations. Often these insights aren’t available for international students however, and research has found that mis-marketing by HEIs negatively impacts the experience of international students. Providing a better experience for international students from their first point of HEI interaction throughout their whole academic career is vital if this cohort are to continue contributing £2 billion annually to the UK economy.
Making the Most of Opportunities?
Of course, what you get out of your HE experience is directly connected to what you put in. Engage with core readings, participate in seminars, study hard and you’ll likely get a better grade than if you didn’t. Volunteer or intern over summer and strengthen your graduate job application. Join societies and sports clubs and leave university with a wider circle of friends as well as a whole load of new, unexpected, experiences.
But how hard is it to do all of these things, or any, when English isn’t your first language? When you don’t understand the UK job market or application expectations? When you feel excluded from university societies and clubs because certain activities they may engage with don’t align with your values or cultural norms?
The HE experience is tough to muddle through for the standard British student. Trying to navigate the complexities of living, studying and working in the UK can be even more of a minefield for the 307,540 non-EU and 134,835 non-UK EU domiciled students that make up almost 20% of the student population. Campus brochures display heterogeneous groups of students seated on freshly-mowed lawns, smiling enthusiastically over open textbooks. But the reality is more likely to feature congregations of similar-looking groups, sharing a common language, appreciating the same familiar cultural references.
Research shows cultural experience is a key reason for international students choosing to study in the UK. However, students interviewed cited more targeted social activities and improving access to vital legal information as ways in which their HE experience could be improved. Evidently, HEIs are failing to invest enough in the needs of the whole student body.
Collaborating for Change
In November 2018, the APPG for International Students published 12 recommendations for improving the experiences of this student group. For HEIs in particular, their role in capturing the fantastic contribution that international students make to the UK is paramount. Improving the process of internationalisation across campus – in the lecture hall, on the sports pitch, and in the student’s union – will benefit both UK and international students, enriching the HE experience.
This also feeds into wider policy discussions around immigration. At this time of uncertainty, particularly for UK-based EU students as Brexit looms, other countries like Australia are overtaking the UK as the study destination of choice. It is vital therefore that all stakeholders work together to better understand how international students view UK HE, how they experience it, and how that experience can be enhanced.
Looking to the Future
The UK HE sector can, and must, do better for international students. Internationalisation has the potential to be an incredibly worthy way to enhance the academic, social and post-study experience for all. It can also help future-proof the sector, and UK-based jobs that international graduates move into.
At Inside Government’s Enhancing the International Student Experience in UK Higher Education forum on Wednesday 3rd April, Advance HE’s Jessica Moody, QAA’s Fabrizio Trifiro and UKCISA’s Julie Allen, among others, will discuss practical strategies for promoting and delivering internationalisation across campuses, honing in on various aspects of student life to improve the UK HE experience.
This article was written by Lauren Powell