THE BLOG

International Students - It's Not Just About Recruitment, But Retention as Well

28/01/2014 11:24 GMT | Updated 29/03/2014 09:59 GMT

There are some things that aren't particularly surprising, but when they do happen, still shock you to your core. Justin Bieber getting arrested for drunk driving (amongst other offences) and Nigel Farage finally admitting that the UKIP 2010 manifesto was 'drivel' are both good examples of this.

One of those moments that may have passed under the radar last week was HESA's announcement that the number of international students coming to universities in the UK has decreased. This is the first time a decrease of this kind has been recorded for a generation. Daniel Stevens of NUS fame was quick to point out that this decrease was neither unexpected, nor unplanned. It has been the result of a "consistently downward trend" and the product of a clear will by this Coalition Government to decrease the number of immigrants coming to the United Kingdom.

This brings me to my next shocking-but-not-surprising moment. Late last December, the topic of student housing was hot on the lips of everyone in Hull, as it often is, as was Christmas and the upcoming holiday period. Like many university campuses, we have a large proportion of international students who stay in their adoptive city over the holiday period. I asked a question about University staffing during this period, and was met with the response that - apart from security staff - there wouldn't be any. For several weeks, there would be nowhere for these students to get support, advice or even a coffee. Even as a Students' Union, we - like many others - are only fully resourced and staffed during 'peak' traditional semester times of September to June. There are thousands of students who, through no fault of their own, are going without basic services, just because of the country they study in.

Structurally and psychologically, many universities are just not built to deal with anything that isn't the traditional, white 18 year old undergraduate student. Rather than Universities UK worrying about the decreasing numbers of international students, and the millions of pounds of revenue lost that could entail, we need to be doing more about the international students who currently study here. I could write a long list of issues about international fees, accommodation and learning provision that would strike a chord with many students up and down the country.

It may not surprise anyone involved in the student movement to here that the most inspirational speech I've ever heard was delivered by a man named Jim Dickinson. Now Chief Executive of UEA Students' Union, his previous work at NUS is rightly lauded. Jim's speech was centred around the ideas that:

a) Far too often we at Students' Unions spend far too much time doing stuff that doesn't change peoples' lives.

B) We (in HE as a whole) pigeonhole our students and put them in neat little boxes.

International students are an example of this. Despite the fact that students from hundreds of different countries, cultures and backgrounds come to UK every year, we are sometimes guilty of persisting with useless stereotypes about non-drinking and a hard work ethic, and little else. Part of this problem is the lack of international students' voices being heard in Higher Education.

My predecessor, Magid Mah, understood these issues. As well as originally hailing from Somalia before coming to the University of Hull, he had a unique ability of connecting with people. It led him to opening his home on Christmas Day to those who stayed in Hull over Christmas, bringing with them food and culture from all over the world, and giving people somewhere nice to spend the holidays.

Yes, there is a worrying negative trend in the numbers of international students applying and studying in the United Kingdom. It is absolutely something we should be concerned about. However, let us not forget about the international students currently living in the UK, who we are letting down right now.