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6 April 2023

Creating a sense of belonging: Our guidance for supporting international students



Eduardo Ramos

Director of International Professional Services, QAA

The longstanding contribution international students have made to British providers is so rich and varied that no single measure or metric can paint its full picture. The benefits range from the cultural links forged across borders to the obvious economic value that international students bring to our sector and national economy. In recognition of this, it is essential that we properly consider the unique challenges and circumstances they experience when coming here to study. It is for this reason that we have updated our guidance on supporting international students studying in the UK. We hope the practical support in our revised document will serve as an important sector reference point for institutions and enable them to ensure international students feel as welcome as possible.


What’s in it?


By working in partnership with providers and sector bodies, we have incorporated student voices through interviews as well as the review group and included examples of positive practice via case studies. In doing this, the document looks to reflect and support the enhancement of genuine student experiences going forward. Building and expanding on the work of the previous iteration, it offers clear and concise guidance to enable practitioners to support students through the key stages of their journey - from pre-arrival to post-study careers and employability.


The majority of the themes covered within the guidance feature an accompanying case study detailing positive practice from higher education providers that support international students. These include workshops at the University of Stirling which teach business and academic English, and a project at Sheffield Hallam University offering support networks for students with young children. Examples like these, alongside the first-hand accounts of students, root our guidance in the lived experience of international students and staff.


Why now?


Since the last iteration of our guidance was published in 2015, we have seen significant changes to the UK’s arrangements for accommodating international students, including new approaches to work-study visa options which enable students to stay in the country after graduation. Changes like these have helped support a rapid growth in the number of international students coming to the UK, as well as new trends in from where they are arriving.


The Government’s target to welcome 600,000 international students a year into the UK by 2030 was met a decade early, partly due to increasing numbers of students from countries such as India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While this increasing diversity is of clear benefit to our institutions, it also invites reflection on the best practice for welcoming students from a wider array of backgrounds. In consideration of the current landscape, we have taken the opportunity to review our guidance to support providers in helping international students adjust to the demands of living and studying in the UK.


Enhancing experiences


During the pandemic, we were keenly made aware of the importance of students feeling that they belong in their academic and social communities. Going forward, we hope this resource can help as many individuals as possible, not just those from outside the UK, feel like active participants in their learning experience. We encourage institutions to use this guidance as a tool to reflect on their current practices and create a welcoming environment that celebrates the diverse cultures within their learning communities.



Supporting and Enhancing the Experience of International Students in the UK guidance can be found on our Projects and Publications page. The supporting resources, including the case studies documents and interviews with students can be found on our Membership Resources site.