Background: Covid 19 has highlighted a number of support needs for that international students and organisations that work or interact with them, including advice service providers. From its onset in early 2020, to the present (January 2021) Coronavirus had in three South Coast universities, including one in the Dorset area brought forth instances in the hundreds of often grave issues faced by international students.
These students can be accurately described as overseas nationals, temporarily and legally in the UK that often brings tens of millions of pounds, and in the case of Bournemouth, commonly 150+ million pounds, into local economies. Covid 19 however was in many cases the ultimate stress test where higher education and language schools/colleges have been concerned in regard to systems and communications and engagement with international students in emergency situation contexts.
The UK Nepal Friendship Society (UKNFS) – direct lead for creating this information resource — jointly with OCHD (One Community Hampshire and Dorset multicultural, multiracial organisation) joined to support international students in plight at the three universities referred to, and in the case of the UKNFS also had a respected record of from its origin in the mid-2010’s supporting the voice of international students on their particular support needs.
OCHD led in 2020 on supporting 300+ Indian international students across the universities in Hampshire and Dorset under Covid 19 impacts that revealed that systems where failings and communications on a range of very important matters that these international students faced, where often being perceived by the students in question, as poorly responded too, and even though doubtless unintended, triggering new, unlooked for situations of crisis through communications perceived insensitivity combined with inflexibility of systems.
Advice and signposting for solutions in such circumstances meant these international students and other international students such as Nepali, etc. where undertaking often very personally daunting quests for information and support that took them through university and student systems in multiple directions.
This situation in the end led to turning directly to the OCHD and UKNFS for practical and advocacy support, giving much deeper knowledge of recurring topics where lack of clarity on systems (navigating them from a person whose first language isn’t English) and their often-revealed lack of in a global emergency having the necessary flexibility; and associated aggravating issues where communications were often concerned, especially where calls for help or making complaints were concerned. Yet beyond these, other issues such as exploitation in private housing, and in workplace settings emerged particularly clearly.
Consequently, very extensive evidence of the particular issues international students where facing at multiple locations, coupled with extensive communications and advocacy by the UKNFS and OCHD on behalf of these students, made the case compelling for creating this information resource/booklet; itself ultimately triggered by the two organisations turning to and partnering with Bournemouth Christchurch Poole (BCP) Citizens Advice, and engaging at detailed level with the BCP Council housing & accommodation section.
A number of video conference calls with admin and student leads at two of the three universities referred to, in addition to large scale video conferences with many of the Indian international students affected, and the fact that the UKNFS learned of comparable numbers (300+) of Nepali students across the UK at multiple other universities where having very similar experiences, completed the range of lived experience evidence of need and directions of need where this information resource is concerned.
International students as assets in the cultural diversity sense:
International students also bring cultural assets to the towns and cities they study in, giving to be welcomed cultural and ethnic diversity that can, in the case of Bournemouth rightly be described as one of principal charms as a nationally important tourist destination.
However, by definition, contributions of these kinds and on such a scale also involve multiple types of interaction for international students off as well as on campus, and extending far beyond the focus of their presence in the UK, academic study.
Multi agency coordination:
This means that in many cases multi agency coordination and support can be required where international students needs are concerned, including minimising safeguarding risks and other matters where vulnerabilities through wont of clear information or policies and systems being appropriate and functioning properly, involve international students in risks and stress giving situations not known by home students at all or on the same scale.
Consequently, there are responsibilities for those who interact on a regular structured basis with international students, whether it be the latter’s university, language school, or college, and especially where the connection involves income generation, such as an academic entity, in housing, employment, hospitality, the Home Office [because of its visa fees], etc. This guide, based largely on international students lived experiences – especially under the different sets of problems on clarity and communication that Covid 19 and related matters (such as lockdowns and their impacts)
Need for this information resource/booklet:
All universities, colleges, language colleges (especially the latter) have guides that cover topics on living and studying at the given educational institute. Many of these guides have advice targeted specifically at international students but often, as the Covid 19 impacts and much lived experience of international students themselves, illustrate, do not cover all the ‘what can actually happen’ settings and scenarios in clear easy to understand ways.
Sometimes such guides are peripheral/marginal elements in inductions provided; here it need be said that for international students, it is essential that the information they are provided with is substantial, easy to understand and memorise, and are a core element to inductions.
At the same time, by definition the subject range of need-to-know information for international students and those engaging with or providing services to them is truly vast, so multiagency approaches are (as mentioned above) required. But to date have only been marginally developed (accommodation related subjects, safety, prejudice when it occurs, are instances, and certainly multiple departments within universities as Covid 19 impacts have particularly demonstrated): the Covid 19 experience has been a major catalyst for change in this regard.
Finally, to mention through need gaps solutions, appropriate dedicated training regarding international students’ engagement, indeed regularly monitored training required for all those interacting at frontline support or advice-giving levels with international students, from townhalls to students’ unions to landlords/letting agencies, and employers.
The UK Nepal Friendship Society (UKNFS) in conjunction with One Community Hampshire and Dorset multicultural organisation have created this booklet/information resource to support international students coming to live and study, or already living and studying in the Bournemouth Christchurch Poole (BCP) and neighbouring areas of Dorset and Hampshire.
UKNFS, which has led on developing the booklet and its content (with a background of awareness and support dating back to the mid-2010’s on international students support & engagement issues: including creation of a ground-breaking information resource that received a support dedication from H.E. the Ambassador of Nepal to the UK), and OCHD (which has provided the major current Covid 19 impacts period with the experiences of 300+ Indian international students), wish to record their thanks to Dorset Community Foundation for funding the time required to research and develop the booklet/information resource’s content.
OCHD with the UKNFS record too, their organisations thanks to BCP Citizens Advice (CA) equality and diversity lead, Ebi Sosseh (now with BCP Council) for his support when we outreached to CA in regard to off campus abuses of Bournemouth University international students that had sought assistance in many directions on abuses of tenants rights issues. We also wish to thank the BCP Council Housing section team for their support and interventions on this case. This combination of organisations working together gave heart back to the family in question, that had been subject to major distress and trauma and which also saw those involved on the agent and landlord side given pause for thought on causing such distress to international students/BAME community members in the future.
Most of all the UKNFS and OCHD wish to thank the hundreds of South Coast international students requested this information resource’s creation and contributed countless experiences that have informed it’s content.
Experience, engagement, and outreach base of the resource content:
The information resource is based on national, pan-UK national level international students – Nepali (the UKNFS working closely with the Non-Residential Nepali Association UK [NRNA UK] was in support to the NRNA able to outreach to the widest possible range of experience of Nepali international students at universities across Britain), broader South Asian (particularly Indian), and other such as East Asian — experiences and those of international students primary to secondary levels stakeholder and support organisations over years.
It includes special reference to the valuable learning experiences of the 2020 Covid 19 related impacts on international students’ communication, engagement, and support issues and needs revealed in those experiences, a number of which relate to international experiences across a number of UK South Coast universities and colleges in this period.
Dorset area specifics: the information resource in a number of relevant places provides Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole, and Dorset area specific signposting and advised support particulars.