How can you raise the communications efforts with international students?

The UK is renowned for its globally acclaimed universities, culturally rich surroundings, and proficient academic professors, establishing it as a prime exemplar of academic brilliance. As a result, it has emerged as a top choice for students worldwide, with over 679,970 international students enrolled in UK universities during the 2021/2022 academic year, indicating a surge of 12.3% from the preceding year, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

While the university experience of international students can differ significantly based on their personal background and the academic institution they enrol in, some may flourish and have a rewarding academic and social life, others may encounter difficulties with a variety of challenges.

Globe with university graduate cap on top of book

What difficulties do international students face in the UK?

The experience of studying abroad can be daunting, particularly when adjusting to a new culture and environment, and this can be compounded by financial and academic pressures. Language barriers, homesickness, cultural differences, finances, and discrimination can also present significant challenges for international students, and these issues can impact their wellbeing and academic performance.

1. Language Barrier – No matter what scores international students get in their IELTs or TOEFLs, they will face a language barrier. These barriers may result in difficulty expressing their needs, seeking help, or understanding conversations, leading to increased stress, anxiety and feeling isolated. Furthermore, international students studying abroad have reported experiencing communication difficulties, even when conversing in the same language as the local population. In a study conducted by Syed Bukhari on ‘Barriers related to language and culture which prevent overseas students from achieving their potential’, 50% of international students experienced difficulty in meeting the required standard of English to follow their courses. Meanwhile, 43% said their overall education and grades were affected by language barriers and 30% of students had to switch from their main courses to English language courses.

2. Feeling Homesick – Experiencing homesickness is a frequently encountered challenge among international students globally. As they become accustomed to their new environment in the UK, the initial enthusiasm about university life may gradually diminish. Although homesickness is a common experience, some students may find it incredibly challenging to manage. Being away from loved ones for an extended period of time can be difficult and can lead to stress and adversely affect their academic performance, which can be frustrating for them.

3. Culture Shock - Cultural shock refers to the emotional and physical discomfort a person experiences while adapting to unfamiliar surroundings. Almost all international students encounter some form of cultural shock after relocating to the UK. Adapting to new norms and altering established habits and thought patterns can be a challenging undertaking. Additionally, adjusting to unfamiliar climatic conditions, alternative cuisine, and differing social customs can be troublesome, causing nostalgia for one's home country.

4. Finance - Studying in the UK can come at a high cost, especially with the cost-of-living crisis, and unless they come from a wealthy background, international students may encounter financial challenges throughout their education. It’s understandable since their tuition fees are usually higher than those of local students. Even if they manage to find free university courses or are sponsored, they may still need to cover expenses such as accommodation, food, and transportation.

5. Racial discrimination - Although the UK is widely recognised for its social harmony and cultural diversity, some international students still encounter incidents of racial discrimination both on and off-campus, which can take the form of verbal or physical abuse. Despite being an accepting and tolerant society towards various religions, beliefs, and philosophies, there will be certain groups whose discriminatory behaviour and narrow-mindedness could negatively impact the university experience as an international student.

International student raising hand in classroom to ask a question

How can International Students' worries be overcome?

While there is no single solution to ALL of the above pain points, there are approaches that universities can be take in order to help mitigate some of these issues, in return, improving the university experience for international students.

International chat

Through the use of modern technology, universities have the opportunity to utilise their communications platform to reduce language barriers for international students. One example of this is by enabling international students to use their preferred language, say Mandarin, while they conduct a live chat with a university’s contact centre agent who is using English. One of Britannic’s trusted partners, 8x8, offers Multilingual Support for Chat enabling exactly that experience.

With this capability, current and potential international students have the ability to communicate via chat in their desired language and agents are able to assist with these chat conversations in their own preferred language, which could potentially be different from the student's language. 8x8 Contact Centre associates primary and one or more secondary languages of fluency to each agent. If the prospective student requests a chat in an agent supported language, the chat will be conducted in that language. Otherwise, the student can use their preferred language and the automatic translation capability will convert it to the agent’s preferred language.

Contact centre for student welfare

Universities can also use their contact centre capabilities to provide layers of security and support to international students by enabling and scaling down their large-scale contact centre used during the Clearing period with flexible licencing and re-purposing it for students’ welfare and support services.

At Britannic, we help universities break through their technology barriers with a consultative approach, whether that’s by advising, designing and implementing a new solution, or maximising their investments through reviewing processes and adding complementary applications. For example delivering clever technology that can bring international students together, rather than isolating them, thereby enhancing their overall university experience.

Find out some more ways that you can help improve your students’ experience.