A new UK parliamentary inquiry launched this month — seeking oral and written evidence from experts in education, business, trade and in local communities — in order to understand and create a more sustainable future for international students in the UK. Lord Bilimoria, co-chair of the inquiry, has said:
“International students are rightly asking if the UK will welcome them. With more international students looking for a global study experience, the UK should be their first choice, but many are choosing competitor countries instead. We provide the best education in the world and should be proud to share it with UK and international students alike.”
Indeed, Australia is now overtaking the UK as the world’s second biggest destination for international students, according to research from UCL. One of the key questions that the parliamentary inquiry will seek to answer is: what are the educational opportunities and challenges of welcoming international students into UK schools, colleges and universities?
One challenge to welcoming international students, that emerged in two recent student surveys, is perceptions of safety. A new report by Intead and FPP EDU Media found that 88% of international students now say that a strong campus safety programme is helpful or very helpful to their decision of where to study. While in the QS Enrolment Solutions International Student Survey, students were asked to rank their top five concerns about studying abroad — safety was ranked third.
Safety-minded students considering study in the UK may be concerned by recent Office of National Statistics (ONS) crime figures for England and Wales, which have led to news reports around the 16% rise in knife crime or the 12% rise in homicides. However, such reports may omit some of the positive actions taken by the Government:
The ONS said the crime statistics may reflect a real increase in crime BUT also an improvement in recording practices.
In one of her last actions as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd launched a Serious Violence Strategy. The strategy is to be backed by £40 million of Home Office funding and an Offensive Weapons Bill to ban the sale of corrosive liquids to under 18s and introduce tougher restrictions on buying knives online.
The crime survey now has a separate assessment to police recorded offences that aims to measure people’s experience of crime. 2 in 10 adults were victims of crime in the period and this proportion has fallen over the long term.
While the UK is generally a safe place to live, it is important that international students have a clear understanding of these issues, and that they feel well prepared and confident leading up to, and upon, their arrival in the UK. A recent ICEF Monitor article highlights how the way in which universities recognise and respond to such concerns can provide them with a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting international students. In the US for example, a list of universities has been compiled, outlining which institutions provide focused support to help their international students to thrive at, and graduate from, university. An invaluable resource for UK institutions wishing to equip incoming international students with the skills, knowledge and confidence to adjust to life in the UK, is the British Council's Creating Confidence personal safety guide for international students, available here. The guide was created in response to the fact that many international students will not only be visiting the country for the first time, but living away from home for the first time too.
If they are unfamiliar with the local area, culture and customs, and in some cases, language, students may feel vulnerable and exposed to risks to their safety and wellbeing. Universities have a duty of care to help create a safe environment for students, ensuring that they feel safe both on and off campus. The guide therefore includes a wide range of advice, such as staying safe on the streets, using public transport, home safety, avoiding scams, and dealing with harassment and hate crime.
To encourage use of the guide, institutions can download and print off posters with QR Codes, which students can scan, allowing them to load the publication to their mobile phones. All they need to do is download a free QR App and the booklet is free to download. The link to the posters is available, here. Hard copies of the guide are also available to purchase online here. Recognising the importance of providing adequate support and information to international students at the pre-arrival, arrival and during-study stages, the ProtectED Code of Practice contains dedicated measures to support international students throughout their university journey. Indicator 2.1.1 of the International Students instrument requires member universities to prepare their international students for life in the UK, prior to their arrival, in a variety of ways, including providing physical or digital copies of the Creating Confidence guide.
Universities that demonstrably prioritise the safety and wellbeing needs of their students will not only be taking their duty of care to students seriously, but are likely to attract the attention of safety-minded international students and their families.