UK students would probably mix more with international learners if they spend more time overseas themselves, a conference heard.
Nigel Healey, pro vice-chancellor (international) at Nottingham Trent University, said that outward mobility gave British students an “ontological shock” that made them value the outlook of their overseas peers.
The conference on enhancing the international student experience, organised jointly by Universities UK and the UK Higher Education International Unit, heard that one of the main things that foreign learners wanted was British friends.
But the event was told that 2004 research by the UK Council for International Student Affairs, which found that only 15 per cent of Chinese students said that they had any British friends after two terms, and that only 7 per cent of international students said that most of their friends were British, was still likely to ring true.
As a result, Nottingham Trent has launched scholarships to support UK students to study, work or volunteer abroad for short periods. This experience could give them a greater appreciation of the demands of a globalised economy, Professor Healey said. “We are never going to get that integration of international and domestic students while domestic students have the upper hand,” he said.
“If we twist that around so they see themselves as different and that they need the skills and experiences that international students have, I think it’s a bit of a game changer.”
The conference, held on 9 June, heard that another way to encourage integration may be to run “orientation” weeks for foreign arrivals before the traditional freshers’ week.
International staff from the University of Sheffield said that students who attended their orientation week – featuring workshops on study skills and British culture as well as social events – gained confidence and were more likely to be satisfied.
A survey of students taken three months after arrival found that those who attended were more likely to have British friends, less likely to draw most of their friends from their home country, and more likely to take part in freshers’ week.
Students who did not attend orientation were six and a half times more likely to experience homesickness than those who did.