This week Dr Surindar Dhesi introduces a Canvas Resource for all staff who have regular contact with international students, and reveals the 10 small things that make a big difference to international students' experiences.
10 Small Things That Can Make a Big Difference - International Student Experience
1) Words on lecture slides. Students reported particularly appreciating words on lectures slides, and not just pictures. They often struggle to note what the lecturer is saying because of the language difference, and then find it more difficult to review the lectures when they contain largely slides with pictures on and few text explanations. Additional bullet points to accompany pictures can therefore be very helpful. International students also reported finding Panopto recordings in certain modules particularly helpful for the same reason.
2) Pre-joining information. A number of students reported that it would have been very helpful to have been sent more information prior to joining the course.
3) Further support with self-study and time management. Undergraduate students from some countries (for example, China) specifically asked for further support with learning to manage their time when at university. They will often come from a context where their teachers and parents chart their daily schedule for them in detail, and so they are not familiar with having to do this for themselves.
4) Explaining the marking system. The UK marking system may require specific explanation. The grades given are generally lower than other systems used internationally, and this can be very discouraging to students early on if they are unfamiliar with the UK system.
5) Being careful when using UK-specific references and terms. Students reported finding UK-specific references and colloquial language used by lecturers potentially confusing. For example, sometimes a lecturer may say “if you’ve done your GCSE in maths you should know this”. Further, use of slang in the classroom can also confuse international students because they can think that the language used is normal and then may use these phrases in exams or assignments.
6) International policy examples can be helpful. The majority of international students will return to their home country after completing their degree. Students generally find general principles taught here applicable when they return to their home country. Therefore, adapting courses to draw out principles more explicitly can be useful. Equally, students can also appreciate a more international scope of the policy material taught - particularly that which can be related to their home context. An exception can be when students intend to learn about the policy systems in the UK with the intention of taking the knowledge and adapting it to their own country's policy systems (African students, for example, can often come with this intention).
7) Additional guidance on specific readings. This was highlighted by participants as being very helpful for acclimating to UK study. Often lecturers provide long reading lists and students find it difficult to know where to go in the list for information about particular topics. They also frequently interpret this to mean that they are required to read all the items on the list. Because reading generally takes significantly longer for students whose first language is not English, this can be particularly daunting for students from non-English speaking countries. Additional signposting can therefore be particularly appreciated.
8) Clarity on pastoral support. The pastoral role of teachers and lecturers can vary significantly internationally, and so students can be unclear about the system in the UK. It can be worth providing clarity on the role of the personal tutor early on. International students can also be confused about the well-being and mental health support available across campus, and so additional explanation and signposting about the availability of these resources and how to access them can be beneficial. In progress review tutorial meetings it can also be helpful to ask additional questions to those provided on the form to learn more about the student's background and perspective. Students appreciate this and feel better understood and that their tutor takes an interest in them. They are then more likely to approach their tutor if they have a problem or question.
9) Check whether undergraduate students have undertaken a foundation year. Many international students are required to take a foundation year in the UK before beginning studies. However, it is possible to enter UK higher education without having undertaken a foundation year (for example, through taking A-levels in their home country during evenings and weekends). The foundation year generally equips students well for study in UK higher education, and students who have not undertaken such a year of guidance may particularly struggle. Identifying which students have and have not undertaken a foundation year early on could allow more specific support to be provided where needed.
10) Guidance on essays. Students from a few countries reported being familiar with essay writing. However, the majority stressed that essays were the most difficult form of assignment to adapt to when arriving in UK higher education.
The Canvas resource is available at https://canvas.bham.ac.uk/courses/27855