Welcoming and Supporting International Students

By Sidonie Ecochard

The Scotland sector-wide event Welcoming and Supporting International Students took place at the University of Strathclyde on March 1st 2017, in partnership with QAA (Scotland). The event aimed to share and discuss the recommendations of the report commissioned by QAA (Scotland), International Students Transitions into Scottish Higher Education: A Scoping Study. Irene Bell gave a presentation on the report she authored, giving a brief summary of methods, findings and recommendations. She described the feeling shared across the sector and backed by data that “international students are well supported in Scottish Higher Education, but we could still be doing better, and we need to be doing better”. Indeed, international students number have more than tripled worldwide since 1990, rising from 1.3 million to 5 million students in 2014 and currently representing 22% of the student body in Scottish Higher Education institutions. To improve international students’ transition, the report includes recommendations for both policy and practice, among which:

Policy:

  • Establish a Scottish international transitions forum/network
  • Produce and share market intelligence and other resources
  • Provide cross-sector professional development for all staff
  • Engender a sector wide discussion on curriculum content/ programme structures in HE

Practice:

  • Institutional policies supported by senior management
  • Pre-arrival engagement activity and management of expectations
  • Differentiated and timely support – with a focus on development
  • Increase emphasis on ‘whole person learning’

Irene Bell’s concluded her presentation by highlighting the necessity for mutual adjustments in the classroom, on the part of both international students and staff. On the one hand, international students are expected to adapt to the Scottish Higher Education system, but on the other, staff are also required to adjust their teaching to multi-national cohorts – sometimes with limited or no training. Finally, Irene Bell reminded the audience of the importance of providing pre-arrival tasks and information, peer-support for international students and cross-institutional approaches to transition, while also developing inter-institutional collaboration.

Further presentations included a talk from Student Presidents Raj Jeyaraj (Strathclyde University) and Rojan Subramani (Edinburgh Napier University), who described their dealings with international students in their current role as Student Presidents, and their experience as international students coming in Scotland themselves. They mentioned the international students’ fear of going to class since the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election. Nevertheless, they explained that the Scotland’s Universities “Scotland Welcomes the World” campaign was a success and restored some peace of mind among international students.

Participants in the event were then invited to attend one of the three parallel sessions, corresponding to the three dimensions of acculturation experienced by international student: academic, socio-cultural and linguistic. I joined Professor Jindal-Snape’s session on socio-cultural integration, which included a very interesting presentation on Hofstede’s (2001) dimensions of cultural differences and Zhou, Jindal-Snape, Topping and Todman’s (2008) ABC model of cultural adaption. The presentation was then followed by group discussions on the initiatives conducted at the different HEI towards international students’ socio-cultural integration and possibilities for inter-institutional collaboration.

Dr Mark Ellis, Theme Leader for the University of Strathclyde and Caroline Tumbler from QAA (Scotland) wrapped up the event by sharing the main points made in the different sessions, and thanking the participants.

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