Ban country clubs so foreign students mix

‘Social engineering’ might be needed to help integrate international students, Sheffield pro v-c says

April 4, 2013

Universities might look to ban country-specific student societies to ensure that international students integrate with their British counterparts, it has been suggested.

Paul White, pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching at the University of Sheffield, told a conference that although it might be “social engineering”, such action could build bridges between different groups.

At City College in Thessaloniki, Greece, an “international faculty” of Sheffield that offers the university’s degrees, national student societies are banned, Professor White told a Westminster Higher Education Forum conference on internationalisation in London.

“They want all the students from the Balkan region not to feel they are Serbs or Kosovans or Macedonians…It’s an interesting idea; I’m just throwing it out there as one example”, he said, of policies that could promote integration.

Universities were generally successful in helping their students to form friendship groups while studying, he argued.

“The problem is that in doing so we may create closed communities of students who don’t interact with each other,” he said, adding that Chinese, Indian and British students often stayed in their own groups.

Institutions should get these communities to mingle, and “that takes us into the realm of social engineering to an extent”, Professor White told the event on 21 March.

“There are simple things we can do by not allowing students just to choose their own class groups and also to put them into mixed communities” when distributing accommodation, he added.

He also questioned how many British or international students wanted to broaden their cultural horizons. Some of the latter group “don’t really want to get the true international experience. They want to extract the knowledge dissemination of the institution,” he said.

Meanwhile, Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group of small, research-intensive universities, suggested that overseas students may end up isolated because they often arrive a week earlier than UK peers and so form their first friendships with other international students.

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Reader's comments (1)

While agreeing with some of the fundamental tenets of this article (that is, institutions do need to consider issues surrounding the successful integration of students, as well as questioning the motivation of students to "get the true international experience"), I caution against a blanket 'ban' on ethnic based groups on campus. It appears to me that the need for integration is perhaps taking precedent over other acculturation and transition challenges faced by students. Ethnic groups can perform a valuable role in transitioning and supporting a new student, not least by affirming the student's 'home' identity within a new host culture (although many other benefits exist). Indeed, if you look at Berry's model of acculturation, an ideal is the validation of both home and host identities in the new environment. Presenting students with an opportunity to form home culture students does not, of itself, prevent international students from engaging with local students. Indeed, such groups can enhance such interaction. However, I do believe that the groups need to be complemented by what Professor White refers to as 'socially engineered' mixed groups - especially in class, but also in the social domain. An important part of the puzzle is, of course, the dispositions and attitudes brought to the interaction by local students - and also institutional structures (such as assessment policy and pedagogical practice), which can often militate against meaningful intercultural interactions occurring.

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