Is the UK failing international students?

International students are an asset to the UK. Some students who come here to study stay on in employment or as graduate entrepreneurs, setting up businesses from financial services in London to catering in Newcastle and language training and business support technology in Glasgow.

In 2014/15, Universities UK estimated that UK universities and their international students and visitors supported over 940,000 jobs. In his 2019 speech about the government’s vision for global higher education, Universities Minister Chris Skidmore noted that international students are sustaining over 200,000 jobs across the country.

Although the UK government is taking a number of actions to ensure the country continues to attract international students and the global leaders of tomorrow, some UK universities fail to promote mutual understanding and social interaction between the UK and international students and accept them so long as they help to increase their fee income.

There have been instances where students have had bad learning experiences as a result of unsuitable supervisors and tutors who lack expertise in their areas of academic or research interest.

Apart from the culture shock, unsuitably skilled staff and teaching styles, some other problematic teaching practices include:

  • Narrow curricula which do not provide comprehensive and global perspectives that help students understand different cultural perspectives

  • Limited awareness and development of critical thinking skills to help students become better problem-solvers

  • Discouraging participation in seminars by using unstructured discussion formats or focusing a selected group of students at the expense of others - this tends to discourage other students from participating.

Nevertheless, teaching international students is only one part of the equation. We also need to ensure that graduates and alumni can take up employment post-study and build trade links to the UK. We know that international students impact work placement businesses and can be employed to apply their global experiences to enable businesses to explore new markets. Alumni can also act as university brand ambassadors in their home countries, further helping to promote UK higher education and strengthen international trade links.

After all, many students who graduate from UK universities have gone on to take up influential positions in public and private sector institutions across the world, most recently in Japan as Crown Prince Naruhito, a UK university graduate, became the new emperor on May 1st 2019. According to research by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), as of summer 2018, among the serving monarchs, presidents and prime ministers around the world, 57 were educated in the UK. Furthermore, 38% of the Nobel Laureates who studied abroad did so in the UK. This shows how a UK education could mark the beginning of lifelong relationships while creating opportunities for people to influence and engage around the world.

We know that Chris Skidmore MP has set out his vision for global higher education. We are also aware that the government is taking action to ensure the UK continues to attract international students, such as increasing the post-study opportunities and making it easier for students to move into skilled work after graduation. But the challenge is in working with students, universities, and businesses to build international partnerships and create initiatives that encourage, support and connect our communities across the world.