International students are key contributors to the UK economy, culture, and society. They significantly add to universities' and communities' general diversity, inclusivity, and internationalisation efforts. In addition, they bring tangible economic benefits and help to foster international collaborations.
Although a considerable amount of information is available regarding international students’ numbers, demographics, and reasons to study in the UK, less attention has been given to their unique experiences, concerns, and perspectives as international students. International students face many adjustment issues and challenges when pursuing education outside their home countries, thus requiring more support from their institutions. This was evidenced even more during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UK Government’s International Education Strategy update published in February 2021 set an action for the Office for Students (OfS) and the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) to establish ‘What works’ in ensuring international students can integrate and receive a fulfilling academic experience in the UK. A series of focus groups with international students studying in English universities and with staff in English Higher Education were held to develop an understanding of sector responses and approaches.
Following on from this work and to improve the understanding of international students’ experiences and needs, in 2022, the OfS, in partnership with UKCISA and the Department for Education (DfE), launched the project “Working in partnership to improve international student integration and experience”. As part of this project, the OfS launched a Call for Evidence addressed to the higher education sector, aimed at identifying effective, innovative, and sector-leading practices that ensure international students can integrate and receive a fulfilling experience while studying in England as well as gaps in provision. The Call for Evidence focused on three themes:
1. Accessibility and effectiveness of well-being and support services for international students.
2. How responding to Covid-19 has shaped practice in supporting international students to adapt and integrate into UK higher education.
3. Work done to prevent and tackle harassment and sexual misconduct (HSM).
The OfS commissioned LSE Consulting to evaluate the submissions received and the quality of evidence on the three themes of the call. Our team screened the 63 entries that were submitted, but only 23 of them had enough relevant information to be included in our analysis (see our Methodological Appendix). For this reason, we complemented this evidence with desk research and additional fieldwork, in particular a survey targeted at international students from across England and a series of focus groups and interviews with international students and staff at the London School of Economics and Political Science (where around 70% of students are international).