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Students reveal intent to build community links

While a particular postgrad course choice was their main decision-making factor, a range of international students in the UK revealed a strong desire to make links with their local community while studying, noting an “international” city and university efforts to offer access to the wider community were favourably regarded.

International students studying at eight different cities in the UK shared their insights. Photo: The PIE News

Universities that are enabling this additional activity are really adding value to the students’ study experience

Twenty students based in eight cities nationwide travelled to London this week to share their unique experience of living in the UK.

The student roundtable session on the impact of cities in student experience was organised by The PIE and BUILA during the British Council’s Going Global conference.

The ability to work part-time was also lauded as a very important way for students to immerse themselves in city life beyond their university network.

Some students considered working part-time to be essential, not just for financial reasons but because it gave them the opportunity to access a wider network and build self-confidence.

Students shared observations that were as valuable as they were authentic, with Quynh from Vietnam, for example, revealing she did not how to cross the road in the UK and had presumed that just as in Vietnam, it was permissible to attempt crossing anywhere.

More targeted orientation and help finding part-time work were two recommendations that students made, while Dilson, a master’s student from Brazil, said more support in acquiring his Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) would have been appreciated.

“I had to work hard to find out” when and how to pick this up, he said, saying he had expected the UK to be more organised.

Working part-time was viewed as essential to build self-confidence while living in the UK

He cited the important role that accommodation played in helping him gain a social circle of friends because he lived with many other nationalities.

Quynh revealed getting involved with a local church had helped her get to know locals, and said even during classes, she had found it hard to mix with British and other international students without this being facilitated by the university.

Both of these students acknowledged that they had looked at the Facebook pages maintained by cities to get a feel for their chosen city before arriving.

Cities such as Nottingham, Huddersfield and Dundee were all praised for being able to offer multicultural communities with Halal food, for example, within a relatively small scale. Cost of living was also a factor noted by those in some of the more affordable cities.

However, course choice did trump most other factors for many students, with the one-year master’s being another big determinant when comparing courses with those in other destinations.

Charlene Allen, chair of BUILA, commented, “It was invaluable to hear directly from the students’ themselves about what informs their decisions and what their real experience of studying in the UK has been.”

“They have gained many skills outside of their studies through their amazing voluntary work, part-time paid work and roles in helping other students to settle into UK university life.”

Allen said it was clear that universities which are enabling this additional activity are really adding value to the students’ study experience: “We will certainly be looking at ways of including the lessons learnt in future BUILA training sessions for our members”.

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