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Brexit uncertainty and integration issues remain in student support

International students are overrepresented in complaints received, integration issues among international cohorts remain, and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has become a key sticking point, delegates heard at UUKi’s and UKCISA’s joint Enhancing the international student experience conference in London.

Universities are doing "slightly less" to facilitate students to stay in the UK than UKCISA anticipated, according to the organisation. Photo: pxhere

31% said their institution does not offer specific support for international students

Brexit continues to foster uncertainty in the sector, UKCISA president Lord Bilimoria illustrated with a show of hands from the auditorium at UUK’s headquarters. Attendees greatly support his call for a second referendum on the topic, a campaign Bilimoria’s colleague in the Lords, Andrew Adonis has spearheaded.

“No one from the university said ‘you are welcome here'”

UKCISA launched the results of a survey on international student support, which chief executive Dominic Scott, who it was revealed will soon be retiring, said aimed to give a snapshot of the current situation at institutions around the country.

According to the results, 71% of institutions reported international students are predominantly concerned with the feeling of uncertainty about Brexit. 70% also reported international students are worried about their right to remain in the UK after study.

Rex Béchu, international students’ officer at the University of Sheffield Students Union, said it was the international student community that had made her feel welcome, not the staff or faculty, despite the university being the creator of the #WeAreInternational campaign.

“I think there’s still a gap. No one from the university said ‘despite Brexit, you are still welcome here’,” she told the conference.

“It was through the international community I had the feeling of being at home again, but it wasn’t through the university”.

Krum Tashev, postgraduate (taught) students officer at SOAS, University of London claimed that although university leaders did not vote for Brexit, abstaining and calling on others to vote remain may have caused as much damage as calling for Brexit publicly.

“It was a strong political issue and universities are sometimes very careful how they approach political issues, I think they could have done more,” Tashev said.

Being seen as welcoming was a key theme at the conference.

Having spoken to a Home Office representative recently, Bilimoria said its employees don’t have a clue what international students go through to come to the UK.

“No wonder there is this hostile environment,” he noted.

“Post-study work can only come back under a new prime minister”

Lord Bilimoria also called for a new post-study work visa, following the release of the APPG’s (which he chairs) recent A Sustainable Future report, meanwhile adding his name to a list of parliamentarians calling for an end to PM May’s time in office.

“To be frank, post study work can only come back under a new prime minister”, Bilimoria said.

International students in Switzerland have six months after graduation to find work, said Anders Hagström, director of Global Educational Affairs at ETH Zurich. And because the country wants to attract talent, all university students pay £1,000 per year, regardless of nationality.

Whereas UK stakeholders emphasised the difficulty for international students to access work in country due to visa policies, at ETH Zurich, the biggest barrier is language.

Although ETH’s courses are all delivered in English, the university “strongly encourages” its international cohort to learn German, in order to access the local job market following graduation.

But some UK institutions are not taking similar steps to support mobile students, the survey revealed.

Julie Allen, UKCISA director of Policy and Services said despite the “huge discussions” in the sector about needing a PSW visa, the survey found that “there is slightly less going on” to facilitate students to stay in the UK than she anticipated.

31% of respondents said that their institution does not offer specific advice or support for international students.

Adjudication manager at the office of the independent adjudicator for England and Wales, Anne Lee, explained complaints from international students are most likely to be about academic problems.

More and more complaints are being expressed by students as consumers, she added.

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