Friday, 27 July 2012

No more international students?

Finally coming up for air after the UKCISA conference 2012, out of many interesting sessions, the one which has made most impact was Jonathan Rees and Gail Horton's thought-provoking session Who then really is an international student?

As they demonstrated, our "home" student population is increasingly diverse in terms of background in terms of residence, schooling, parental nationality, etc.  Similarly, many "international" students have some degree of previous experience of living or studying in the UK.  The categories are a mere administrative convenience relating to fee status or immigration status, but may not reflect students' own sense of identity, or give any meaningful clue as to whether they have any particular support needs relating language, cultural adaptation or visa formalities.  Worse still, does such labelling further inhibit integration, and encourage "othering" and an "us/them" mentality on campus - not only among students, but also between students and staff?

So what are the implications of this?  What would it look like if we dropped the "international" label?  Should "International Offices" be replaced by "Mobility and Visa Services Offices"?  One orientation programme for all, with pick and mix sessions for those who need on visas, cultural adaptation etc? (We know that's already happening in increasing numbers of institutions).  Should Language Support be more fully integrated with Study Support?  No doubt there are countless other examples where we could question our current labelling and categorising.

So when I find myself drawn to the idea of "No more international students", it's not in the sense that some of the more xenophobic of our press and public might mean.  Instead lets just drop the labels: a student is a student is a student.  Let's find more inclusive ways of supporting diversity.