Topic briefing

Supporting international students

Published 18 January 2023


University of Nottingham: International students’ mental health

The University of Nottingham led a collaborative project to develop a mental health toolkit (the Globally MindED toolkit) for higher education providers. The project was partly funded by the OfS Mental Health Challenge Competition. This toolkit aims to aid understanding of the specific challenges faced by international students that may affect their mental wellbeing, and of what support can be offered. The project also responded to how the coronavirus pandemic both exacerbated existing challenges and raised new issues specific to international students. The Globally MindED toolkit brings together examples of effective practice in supporting international students’ mental health. It was developed through co-production with international students across the UK. This project has been written up elsewhere, most recently in the independent evaluation of the Mental Health Challenge Competition What Works in Supporting Student Mental Health and in Student Mind’s ‘Understanding mental health inequalities: International student report’.

The Globally MindED toolkit

Mental Health Challenge Competition

Understanding mental health inequalities: International student report

The University of Warwick: Say My Name and Hear My Name projects

The University of Warwick has undertaken two projects to champion diversity and improve international students’ experiences of university life. The Say My Name and Hear My Name projects explore the importance of names and the negative impacts of name avoidance, hesitation and mispronunciation. They aim to create a culture where everyone can be called confidently by the name they genuinely prefer.

Lack of respect around names can lead to international students feeling unwelcome, invisible or excluded. Many feel compelled to change or adapt their names to ease communications and ‘fit in’. To address this the University of Warwick has:

  • Conducted research to explore the experiences of staff and students in encountering names that were unfamiliar to them and the experiences of those with names that many found unfamiliar. The findings were disseminated at conferences and in blog posts. They also informed guidance and recommendations as outlined below.
  • Created an open access resource library to curate resources, tools and activities to support respectful name use. An online symposium was held at the University of Warwick to bring together research in this area and connect academics working in this field.
  • Developed the Hear My Name pilot: 200 people trialled using audio name badges in their email signatures. There was positive feedback from participants and a wider pilot is now taking place to test whole-department use of audio name badges.

In addition, the Say My Name project has worked with companies and local communities to share the importance of names.

Find out more about the Say My Name project

University of the Arts London (UAL): Intercultural awareness and interaction skills

To acknowledge the diversity of its students and its London location, UAL has developed a set of workshops for all students about intercultural exchange. The workshops aim to:

  • Create opportunities for students to communicate in diverse cultural groups.
  • Encourage students to reflect on the value of perspectives from a range of cultures.
  • Equip students with intercultural and communications skills.
  • Build community and a sense of belonging.

Sector research and feedback identified topics that are addressed in five separate workshops tailored to a variety of courses across UAL. The workshops use reflection, analysis and the exchange of personal experiences to identify key principles and competencies for successful communication, collaboration and group work. The workshops focus on working together on art-based projects (for example, creating a zine, 3D model-making, and digital illustrations) and employ various visual and kinaesthetic elements. They are positioned as a formative part of the course, and at all levels of study. Initial feedback has been positive from both staff and students, noting a stronger sense of cohort cohesion and learning.

University of Bradford: Virtual housing fayre

The University of Bradford adapted its housing advice to online delivery during the pandemic, building on previous experiences with virtual freshers’ fayres and election events. The university, working with the students’ union, developed a virtual housing fayre to help international students make informed accommodation choices before they arrive in the UK. The fayre aims to support international students, particularly those who are bringing dependants to the UK, to remotely source suitable, safe housing within the city of Bradford and surrounding areas.

International students, like all students, need to understand the complexities of housing contracts and the rights of both tenants and landlords before entering into legally binding agreements. The legal arrangements in the UK may be very different from the experiences that students have in their home countries.

The virtual housing fayre is held in partnership with Unipol (a regional independent housing charity that runs an accredited housing scheme for local landlords and national providers of housing). The event includes virtual stalls hosted by accredited landlords. University support services also attend the event. The fayre offers information, advice and guidance to prospective and current students on issues such as welcome and orientation, finance, student tenancy agreements and support relating to bringing dependents to the UK. It has been successfully delivered several times and is held at appropriate times for international student recruitment.

University of York: Academic and communication skills development

The University of York’s Faculty of Social Sciences identified a need to give international students the opportunity to develop academic and communication skills. The faculty identified employability needs based on existing skills statements and frameworks, and worked collaboratively to develop a programme of work. This is embedded in taught modules for large groups of postgraduate students in the faculty. The aim is to ensure that students develop awareness of the skills needed for masters’ study and employment in a diverse, globalised marketplace.

Students are encouraged to make personalised development plans, based on their self-assessed skills profiles. Lectures, and supporting seminars and workshops, were developed with a focus on developing academic and communication skills. Students also receive one-to-one tutorial support to help them with further skills development throughout their studies and into the workplace. Feedback from participants has been positive and academic staff have seen an increase in student engagement.

University of Bradford Union of Students: KickStart

The University of Bradford Union of Students (UBU) runs KickStart. This is a fast-track introduction to university life for international students. Working closely with university academic and professional services, UBU organises a wide range of pre- and post-arrival events and support services. These aim to assist international students with their orientation into student life and life in the UK. They include a two-day residential programme for students that aims to:

  • Provide fun and engaging team-building and team-based learning opportunities.
  • Showcase Bradford and the surrounding area to students.
  • Educate students about the support and opportunities available to them.
  • Inspire students to participate in, and lead, UBU engagement experiences. These include opportunities in sports, societies, governance and volunteering.
  • Encourage students to enter the UBU self-development programme.
  • Support students throughout their student journey to develop personally and professionally, while having the best student experience possible.

Based on the success of KickStart, UBU has plans for creating additional residentials programmes for students with families; students in Bradford over Christmas; the LGBT+ student community; sports and societies executives; and faculty-specific residentials.

Find out more about KickStart

Leeds University Union: The international student advisory board

Leeds University Union has implemented an International Student Advisory Board (ISAB), where 30 international students work alongside different student support teams to feedback on areas for improvement. The ISAB is led by the International and Postgraduate Office and is also given staff support and guidance by the International Student Engagement Coordinator. The purpose of the board is to facilitate direct discussions between international students and university teams or those working on university initiatives. This ensures that the international student voices are heard and, where appropriate, that changes can be made according to their feedback.

The ISAB works alongside the university teams to create changes that improve international students’ experiences. All suggested changes are tracked within an ‘International initiative tracker’ tool. This means that progress is monitored and teams and ISAB members can check, review, and suggest changes. Some examples of changes that arose through the ISAB contribution are:

  • Improved banking and healthcare access information.
  • Creating videos explaining strike action for international students.
  • Organising an international winter festival.
  • Board members participating in a talk on ‘Increasing cultural competency on campus’ for the World Unite Festival.

The ISAB is a space for international students to express themselves freely, where their opinions are supported, and where results of their contributions are visible and tangible. It also helps university teams to better understand international students’ experiences. Furthermore, the international student board members reported finding the experience empowering. They felt that they had directly influenced changes that resulted in a better experience for all international students.

Find out more about the Leeds University Union student advisory boards

Published 18 January 2023

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