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StudentsCurrently there is a bit of a joke on campus, I have to admit.

When it comes to doing group work, there are a couple of lovely stereotypes that exist – you know, you’ve got the free-loader who does nothing, the ‘pain in the rear’ who organises everything too early and then moans at everyone… the list goes on and on.

Another one of these revolves around getting the international/foreign student in the group who doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on.  I’ve seen it before and I have worked in such groups – heck, last year when I was in Grenoble I was that foreign student!

Clearly there is a negative perception sometimes about foreign students and how much they actually contribute to group work – some of it might be warranted but at other times it really isn’t.  Mind you, sometimes I do wonder how certain students get their qualifications in the English language tests from their home country, but let’s  move on.

Bottom line is, it’s a mixed bag sometimes.  However, it would seem that would-be undergraduates aren’t quite as bothered at the prospect as you might think..

Last month, the Higher Education Policy Institute and YouthSight found that 87% of university applications welcomed the thought of working with international students would give them a better view of the world – 85% said that working with foreign students would help them prepare for working life.  The results were welcomed as great news by HEPI Director Nick Hillman – it would appear that the effect of international students on groups and courses is rather an attractive prospect.

Some of the other things that were noted in the survey:

  • Over 3/4 of students found the idea of developing an international network of students to be a great prospect.
  • More encouragingly from a personal note, some 68% of students hoped to practice some sort of foreign language at university. In practice, I don’t think that it quite works out like that – I believe that there are certain barriers that ultimately prevent this and the reality is somewhat different.
  • On the subject of foreign students, the UK is the second biggest recruiter of foreign students in the world – behind the United States. Overall, 18% of the undergraduate population in the UK comes from overseas.

It seems that foreign languages are high on peoples lists and the network of students out there is quite an attractive prospect – though it makes me wonder if students feel that this is a means of compensating for areas of their education that are somewhat lacking. However, take the less cynical view and we are left with the exciting prospect that students are really wanting to engage with the international community – something that they have the opportunity to do even more at university.

With the news that UCAS is going to accept university applications for institutions from abroad – including Germany and the Netherlands, potentially – and the possibility of a draconian set of immigration rules being overturned with a new government in May, it would appear that there is a gradual shift in attitudes towards international cooperation. The latest set of survey results about the idea of working with international students only adds to the theory that we aren’t quite as conservative in our thinking as was once thought.  Indeed, if prospective students are thinking about this, it perhaps applies a fair bit of pressure to the government to think carefully about its foreign policy – plans to curb international students’ ability to stay after their degree to find work and controls on quotas and research funding makes for a very difficult for students to come here – a notion that contradicts the government’s plans to turn the UK into a ‘world leading’ centre for research and education.

Perhaps, the main thing that seems to get in the way of international students at the moment are the fees associated with education and the prospect of leaving very quickly afterwards, not to mention a fight to get here in the first place.  A bit political yes, but in theory that could change very quickly.

UK students can of course get a taste of international cooperation by means of travelling abroad on placements as part of the Erasmus exchange programme – and of course further afield if Europe isn’t you thing.  Such an experience is something I will hold very close to me for the rest of my life.  As long as there is a demand for working together as a community then I think it should be encouraged and facilitated more easily – certain aspects to the international student life are a little prohibitive now and again so I think we’re a little behind in that respect.

Sadly, I fear that, in the grand scheme of things, what we’ve seen here is not likely to be a major source of discussion in the coming months – I suspect that immigration will play a part in how we put people away but overall it’s going to be mainly about the problems facing home students and the train-wreck that is primary and secondary education.  I personally would be very surprised if this all really registered – after all, higher education is considered a business by the government.  However, I think if a more liberal approach were to be taken then we’d be looking a much more interesting educational climate.

I’m not immediately saying that opening the doors and letting everyone in is necessarily the correct answer, but without a doubt the results of the survey show us that our prospective students are quite open to learning more from our international community.

Admittedly, all of this is coming from perspective students and those applying to university – not the students and graduates who have actually sat and worked through a degree.  I would welcome a look at their views and how much they thought they got out of the experience.

 

 

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