By Laura Potts
More than 43 000 people come every year from overseas to study in the UK; a vast spectrum of people with differing backgrounds, cultures and interests/abilities. An international student’s experience of learning abroad goes further than just their degree. They encounter a different way of life that may enrich and enhance their own. They each bring with them a unique set of capacities, a wealth of ideas and innovative potential solutions that create a stimulating multicultural academic environment for all. But adapting in this way is often difficult, as I’ve learned recently speaking to international students at my university.
As we all know, crippling fees make life that much harder for those choosing to join our education system. Though our leaders are happy to accept foreign student’s money, racism and prejudice is still endemic in our legislation. When government immigration policy includes international students in net migration targets in a time of mainstream hostility to anyone labelled ‘immigrant’, it’s not really surprising that we are seeing a worrying reduction in the number of international students coming here. Many have emphasised the economic folly of this approach, warning that the UK risks losing talented people to ‘competitor economies’ by shunning international students. But the risks are much greater than that. It is vital for the country to look past the purely economic benefit of welcoming international students and realise the wider picture: that they are the vanguard of a more integrated world that would not only improve overall living standards for many but greatly increase the likelihood of moves towards more peaceful, collectivist societies.
There has never been a more desperate time to pursue this integration. Recent election results have cast doubt on the potential for broadening understanding across cultural and political barriers. In the UK, Theresa May and her government are developing an increasingly imperialist, discriminatory, culturally hostile discourse. And the legacy of a century spent teaching our children that selfishly seeking individual gains should be the aim of their lives isn’t going away anytime soon.
We must reclaim the ideas of internationalism and globalisation and focus on building the real, inclusive global community that we were promised
The globalised economy is built on a fundamental irony, epitomised in the current spate of devastating refugee crises. In many ways the internationalisation of the economy has narrowed prosperity rather than broadened it. States have vested interests in the profits of big business and poorly regulated trades in resources, so there is a deeply entrenched unwillingness to extend the fruits of international trade to those in need.
We must reclaim the ideas of internationalism and globalisation and focus on building the real, inclusive global community that we were promised. We are facing some of the greatest challenges the world has seen in recent memory, most notably the risk to humanity imposed by climate change. Turning the situation around and approaching change is not easy while leaders and governments fight for selfish ends. Encouraging involvement with other cultures, with their languages and systems is vital for building a more globalised community. Although many feel it is important to take pride in the traditions of their own culture, this should not be reason to not welcome differing ways of life, and people in need.
We must work at the grassroots level, each offering a willingness to educate ourselves about others’ cultures and situations, in order to truly function as an international, inclusive, collectivist, globalised community. Welcoming international students is a crucial part of this. Together we can move forward to a new era, re-imagining globalisation as an ideal for the people, to protect the vulnerable, throw off our obsession with economic ‘value’, preserve our planet, and advance as one humanity.
Featured image via Migreat