UK postgrads 'shocked' at sight of foreign peers

February 16, 2012

"I was a bit bewildered at the beginning. It was like, 'ooh', surprise, no English people!"

This was one of several negative reactions from British students asked to reflect on the large number of international students on some postgraduate courses.

The comments were gathered at an unnamed university in England by academics at Bournemouth University, and are recorded in a paper in the Journal of Further and Higher Education titled "The British host: just how welcoming are we?"

A second student, identified only as Emily, said: "To be honest, I was very shocked. I didn't know there would be any international students; it wasn't stated anywhere."

A third added: "There were so many, I couldn't believe it. It's weird, it sounds horrible, but I don't know if I would have taken my course if I had known. I didn't sign up for an international course."

The remarks will make uncomfortable reading for UK universities, which rely on international students to prop up postgraduate studies in certain key disciplines.

Institutions will also be aware of the income such students provide through tuition fees, and of the long-standing concerns that they can end up isolated from UK students.

The paper's authors, Lorraine Brown and Steven Richards, both senior lecturers in tourism, note that previous studies have highlighted the "unfriendly, unapproachable and indifferent" attitudes, and in some cases outright racism, faced by overseas students in the UK.

However, little work has been done on home students' attitudes, they add.

Among the paper's findings are the fact that language issues and differences in humour can cause major barriers to social interaction.

As one student interviewed for the study put it: "Humour particularly is very important to me, and it does not always travel well!"

Others welcomed the cultural diversity, with one adding: "The more the merrier."

john.elmes@tsleducation.com

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