Students shun foreign peers

October 5, 2007

UK students demonstrate "passive xenophobia" towards international students, threatening the UK's position in the global education market, according to new research.

Interactions between home and overseas students are "limited, problematic or non-existent", the researchers concluded, and lecturers are failing to manage the problem even when splits - sometimes even hostile ones - develop in classrooms.

Nicola Peacock, internationalisation development manager at Bournemouth University, and Neil Harrison, senior research fellow at the University of the West of England, set up eight focus groups involving 60 students from both universities.

Most of the UK students reported only limited interaction with their international colleagues, and a minority reported having had no contact at all.

The researchers identified international students' age, level of English, cultural differences - including drinking culture - and self-exclusion as possible reasons.

Some students also indicated that they were reluctant to include international students in group work as it might compromise the collective mark through lack of language ability or of English pedagogy.

"The classroom experience of students is that the interaction between UK and international students is not generally actively managed... work groups tend to crystallise around national and language groupings, with little interaction and some possible antipathy from UK students."

Some UK students did report that they had benefited from the presence of international students and appreciated different perspectives, but "there was a sense in which many of the students wanted to establish some form of personal credentials around internationalism and exoticism, potentially linked to the burgeoning backpacking culture," the report said.

The research also noted that Chinese students were deemed to be the most "culturally distant" group - posing a "significant threat to the long-term future" of the East Asian student market.

Mr Harrison said: "Universities need to think about the internationalised classroom. Frontline teaching staff need to be provided with the tools to manage the complex dynamic, especially in courses with a global dimension."

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