Help foreign guests to help you

December 24, 2004

There can be few universities in the UK that do not have international students. Although the number of such students varies between institutions, there is no doubt that they are a valued and valuable element. This is not to say that international students do not present challenges to those who teach them: language problems and acculturation difficulties spring to mind.

While these issues cannot be ignored, some thought needs to be given to the support of international students during their time in the UK.

First, academic staff need to be aware of the existence of international students, not as an amorphous mass but comprising a number of groups, including some on short-term exchanges. Whatever the nature of their stay, they can be a valuable resource for subjects where international and global perspectives are important. What better way for British students to obtain an international viewpoint? Using international students as a learning resource should be on the syllabus of any postgraduate certificate in higher education and included in staff development sessions.

Second, there should be an awareness of language support available for international students in universities. Sometimes neither staff nor students themselves realise that those who have problems with spoken and written English can obtain help from English-language centres.

Third, integration into the student body by international learners should be encouraged. This can be done through judicious placement in accommodation and by encouraging international students to join student-run societies. Some universities have sabbatical student officers, often international students themselves, who look after the general welfare of this element of the student body.

Attention to these points can help to ensure a positive experience for international visitors while enhancing the reputation of British higher education.

Michael Hughes is director of learning and teaching in the School of European Culture and Languages, Kent University.

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