Topic briefing

Supporting international students

Published 18 January 2023

Effective practice advice

International students come to study in English universities and colleges from a variety of backgrounds and this diversity in experience is a significant contribution to university or college life. Higher education providers should always seek to understand and be responsive to international students’ needs as individuals. Gathering international students’ feedback on effective practice is essential.

1. Foster a sense of belonging

Work to support this sense of belonging could include:

  • Co-creating initiatives for international students with these students. Also consider how to include students from different backgrounds, including UK (home) students, in co-creation activities to support student inclusion and belonging.
  • Making learning and teaching practices accessible. This includes recognising that international students may need introduction to how teaching and learning are structured in English universities and college. It is also important that teaching and learning materials are in a format that international students based abroad, or who are abroad during holiday periods, can access.
  • Making sure that international students are included in student representative bodies.
  • Ensuring that international students feel invited and included in extracurricular activities on campus. Universities and colleges can work with students’ unions and with UK-domiciled students to develop inclusive social programmes that facilitate positive interaction with students and staff.

2. Make support services accessible

Language, communication, and cultural barriers may impede international students’ ability to engage with support services. Steps to make services more accessible include:

  • Creating an advisory group or board made up of international students.
  • Avoiding the use of acronyms and jargon.
  • Making information about support services widely available, with clear explanations about the different types of support on offer.
  • Understanding cultural differences in how students engage with support, and addressing any barriers that may arise as a result of them.

3. Provide targeted information, advice and guidance about admission processes and life in the UK

Provide targeted information for international students to help them with admission processes. International students value clear information about:

  • Completing the student visa application.
  • Tuition fees.
  • Course content and structure.
  • Campus facilities (learning and social).
  • Employability support.
  • The research environment and opportunities (for postgraduate students).
  • The availability of scholarships and bursaries (for postgraduate students).

Virtual resources and tools are helpful, such as virtual open days or platforms that allow for interactions between current and prospective students.

4. Develop a strategic, institutional approach to support employability

Employability and post-qualification prospects are key factors that international students consider when choosing where to study. Support international students’ employability by:

  • Providing globally informed careers support at all stages of the student lifecycle.
  • Embedding employability development opportunities in courses.
  • Investing in targeted employer engagement, including with overseas employers.

5. Tackle harassment and sexual misconduct

Make sure that systems and processes to help prevent and respond to harassment and sexual misconduct are accessible to international students (including providing clear information on reporting tools, disciplinary processes and support services). Take a proactive approach in preventing and addressing instances of harassment against international students with appropriate awareness-raising materials and training courses.

Ensure that international students are aware of the standards of behaviour expected from all students related to preventing harassment and sexual misconduct. This could be through information given in the admissions process and student induction training, as well as at frequent intervals throughout their course.

The WeAreInternational Student Charter, a student-led initiative led by UK Council for International Student Affairs, provides guidance on the fundamental principles for delivering a world-class international student experience, and complements the guidance listed above.


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