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Foreign students flock to universities in the UK for the world-class education, and teach native students in the process. Amar Mistry explains.
Text by: Amar Mistry
Country: United Kingdom

he UK education sector is internationally recognised as one of the best, hosting four of the top ten universities in the world, educating over 2 million students nationwide and producing a whopping 1 million graduates a year. International students make up a huge percentage of students there and come from all corners of the globe. With emerging markets such as China, India, and Brazil growing, thousands of students take advantage of Erasmus, an exchange programme, to come to the British Isles to study.

Yet life in the UK is often different from that in their homelands, and students face challenges both in their studies and in adapting to the unique British culture.

Rich academic history

Steeped in history, the UK boasts some of the most prestigious and internationally renowned institutions, including the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, which date back to 1167. As of 2015, there are 109 universities across the UK. With a rich tradition in research, UK universities offer a range of subjects, from veterinary science and law to international business studies and English literature. Usually, students are awarded their degrees after three or four years of study, with some courses offering the chance for a placement year as part of their industry or in an institution abroad.

Nowadays, more companies are developing partnerships with educational institutions and campuses abroad. Offering opportunities for students to study abroad for a semester is becoming more common, and more students are choosing the UK to gain their qualifications. With the ability to charge higher fees to these students and strengthen their international reputation and branding, universities see these students as valuable assets. There are currently 435,500 international students in the UK, with the biggest foreign populations coming from China and India.

A degree from a UK university carries a lot of weight. Syed, an international business graduate from Nottingham Business School and a native of Bangladesh, says he gained a lot from his education in the UK.

“Getting a degree from the UK allowed me to perfect my English, learn real business skills and also enabled me to take more responsibility in the family business,” he says. “When compared to other countries’ universities, I felt that the British establishments have a better international reputation.”

Language and culture

Often international students know that they are likely to struggle with language. To help, universities have set up buddy systems, language classes, and individual tutoring. As part of a buddy system, I helped French exchange students perfect the grammar in their assignments. Whilst the content and subject knowledge of their essays was outstanding, they required support in order to steer them through the tricky landscape of English grammar, which can be difficult, even for native speakers.

Andy, who is originally from China and studied in the UK and South Korea as an international student, talks about his first year abroad:

“I spent the first year surrounded by other international students, learning English and getting my head around basic concepts. This was so helpful to me, not just for my academic progress but also to enable me to make good friends in such a new city,” he says. “I was a long way from home, but so were others, and because of this, we could bond quickly.”

In addition to the challenges that university life presents, international students also have to get used to the culture in the UK. They must learn to navigate trading hours, the registration of documents, queueing, the language, and even the weather. British people are also known for using words such as “sorry”, “thank you”, “please” and “excuse me” a lot, and not using these words in everyday interactions can sometimes come across as rude. What’s more, some citizens may have a negative view of foreigners. Silvia, a native of Spain, says she encountered difficult shop employees during her year in Nottingham.

“I used to go shopping and noticed that some people rarely smiled at me, talked to me, or tried to be helpful. Sometimes, when I didn’t understand something and politely asked someone to repeat themselves, they would roll their eyes and rush their words in order to move me along,” she says. “During my time in Nottingham, I made some friends for life, but a lot of people were not sympathetic to my level of English and sometimes it was hard.”

Maintaining habits from home also pose another challenge to international students, as Rene, from Guinea, explains:

“I realised that, as I was becoming assimilated to British culture, I was losing my African heritage. Being surrounded and immersed in the British culture I felt at times that I was changing. Talking through these feelings with my brother really helped, but I saw many Africans change their personality completely.”

Cultural exchange

The international students also influence native students. Michael, from Hong Kong, was my flatmate during our first year at university. We became good friends, with him introducing me to the world of online gaming, and with me getting him involved with our football culture. We went to a local football game, and it was a great experience for him:

“Football here was so different, everybody drank beer and took part in lots of chants and funny songs. It was so interesting to visit a real ground that I’d only ever seen before on the TV, or played as a football game on the PlayStation,” Michael says. “I taught Amar how to cook teriyaki and we ate lots of noodles together but he also cooked me curry and fish and chips– it was an exchange of cultures. A real great time in my life!”

International students face challenges that may seem straightforward to Brits, who can take for granted the difficulties involved with navigating a new culture. It’s natural, of course, to be at ease in your own country, but before interacting with international students, I wouldn’t have even thought about some of these issues.

Having a multinational group of friends and studying alongside them also has its benefits. Firstly, we get to learn about their cultures and receive an insight into their lives. Whether it’s eating homemade Spanish tapas or learning dance moves from an African friend, it really broadens horizons and adds to the experience of university life.

Jess, from London, reflects on how her experience was enhanced by international students:

“At first it was difficult to get them out of their shells, but after they warmed up, most were really enthusiastic about learning. They offered such great examples and different ways of thinking; I never appreciated such different perspectives before,” she says. “I’ve made some great friends for life and feel as though I understand some of the cultural theory I’ve been taught much more after seeing it in action.”

The UK offers a great academic education for students and is very helpful for employment prospects after university, but studying abroad is more than that. With a diverse and open culture, some great landmarks and places to visit, the UK offers students great experiences during their stay.

Many international students look back on their time in the UK with fondness. Some stay on here through employment, as government policy is adapting the criteria for graduate visas, enabling students to stay and work in the UK. The education sector remains extremely important; international students are a big part of that and will be for the foreseeable future.

Algunas de las obras expuestas

Number of UK universities: 109

Most prestigious universities: University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University College London, University of Edinburgh

Number of students: 2,299,355

Number of international students: 435,500

Most popular subjects: Business & Administrative Studies, Medicine




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Educational Exchange

The UK education system is one of the best anywhere. It has 4 of the top ten universities in the world, educates over 2 million students nationwide, and produces 1 million graduates a year.

There are 109 universities across the UK offering degrees in a range of subjects, from veterinary science and law to international business studies and English literature. A large percentage of the students there are international students from all corners of the globe.

A degree from a UK university carries a lot of weight. Syed, an international business graduate from Nottingham Business School and a native of Bangladesh, says he gained a lot from his education in the UK.

For international students, life in the UK is often different from that in their homelands and they face challenges both in their studies and in adapting to the unique British culture. To help, universities offer buddy systems, language classes, and individual tutoring. "When I was a student in university, as part of a buddy system, I helped French exchange students perfect the grammar in their assignments" says the author.

Some of the problems encountered by international students may seem straightforward to Brits, who can take for granted the difficulties involved with navigating a new culture. It's natural, of course, to be at ease in your own country, but before interacting with international students, I wasn't aware of some of these issues.

Having a multinational group of friends and studying alongside also has its benefits. The locals learn about their cultures and receive an insight into their lives. Whether it’s eating homemade Spanish tapas or learning dance moves from an African friend, it really broadens horizons and adds to the experience of university life.

 

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