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UK HE: More to be done forging social bonds

There is an inverse correlation between the proportion of international students and the quality of student experience at UK universities, researchers at the University of Warwick have found. A UKCISA-based report calls for greater focus on social aspects of internationalisation among universities and academic league tables.

The report contends that universities and league tables place too much focus on structural metrics of internationalisation. Photo: report.

It notes that few university internationalisation strategies include facilitating these interactions

The report, How internationalised is your university?also shows that the higher a university scores in international outlook metrics in global rankings, the less positive student experience ratings are.

“It shouldn’t be taken at face value; it shouldn’t be interpreted that therefore you shouldn’t have a good number of international students”

Based on primary data and statistics from i-graduate‘s Student Barometer, the study found a particularly strong correlation between a high ratio of non-UK to UK students and a lower ranking on the THE’s ‘good social life’ sub-category on student experience at 26 UK universities.

“These correlations could be interpreted as indicating that growth in ‘structural internationalisation’ has a negative impact on student satisfaction, and especially social integration,” notes the report.

“At face value, that’s awful,” Helen Spencer-Oatey, director of Warwick’s Centre for Applied Linguistics and the report’s co-author, told The PIE News. “[But] I think it shouldn’t be taken at face value; it shouldn’t be interpreted that therefore you shouldn’t have a good number of international students.”

Correlations between diversity, student experience and international outlook in UK universities. Source: University of Warwick report.

Correlations between diversity, student experience and international outlook in UK universities. Source: University of Warwick report.

 

In fact, researchers identified a positive correlation between students forging transnational friendships and feeling part of the university community.

There is also a “statistically significant” positive correlation between students experiencing mixed-nationality friendships and group work, and feeling that they are developing the skills to work in an international context.

“This further corroborates our assertion that while student composition is important, enabling students to build positive social bonds… is equally important and should be of similar priority for HE policy makers,” the report asserts.

It notes that few university internationalisation strategies include facilitating these interactions, focusing instead on simply boosting the number of overseas students or faculty.

“While having a diverse population is an important prerequisite for reaping benefits, it does not in itself ensure that people will interact meaningfully with each other,” Spencer-Oatey said.

“What [the report is] saying is not that you shouldn’t have such a diverse community, but we need to work actively in promoting and facilitating that active community.”

The report follows a previous collaboration between Warwick and UKCISA to produce a report about on-campus integration and a series of summits on the subject.

“This recent report goes beyond this and asks some big questions about the way we rate institutions on the basis of one of the most important factors for students – the ability to mix and meet and make friends and feel part of a truly inclusive community,” Dominic Scott, UKCISA chief executive, told The PIE News.

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