SOLIDARITY WITH INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

by Alex Powell

Not too long ago, a series of news stories began emerging. These stories documented the fact that the government’s estimates for the number of international students who outstay their visas were greatly exaggerated. Despite this, the government has continued to push two convictions. Firstly, that it is appropriate for international students to be included within wider immigration figures, and secondly, that immigration is too high and needs to be cut. These dual premises are having a hugely detrimental impact on the experience of international students, so it is important that other students do all we can to show solidarity with our fellow students and push for changes to this policy.

The first and most effective way we can begin to tackle these ideas is to show how integral the diversity international students bring to campuses is to the wider student experience. This can be primarily facilitated through student unions and student societies providing an opportunity for cultural exchange and the chance for students of different backgrounds to mix. In doing this, we can make clear that young people, virulently reject both the idea that international students have any form of detrimental impact and also that there is any genuine need to cut immigration.

it is also imperative that the rest of us make ourselves more aware of the specific issues international students are subjected to.

In this regard it is also imperative that the rest of us make ourselves more aware of the specific issues international students are subjected to. These issues range from dramatically higher tuition fees (which are subject to change even during the course of their studies) to a lack of ability to undertake sufficient levels of paid employment to supplement their income during their studies (in saying this, I utterly reject the idea that it is appropriate that any student should have to be in a situation where they need to undertake employment alongside their full-time degree). A further issue, and perhaps a more concrete one that can be taken up to wider political influence, is the current set of regulations around attendance and visas. At present, international students who fall below a certain level of attendance risk breaching their visa and thus losing their right to remain in the UK and continue their studies. Though, of course, it is possible to excuse absences through doctor’s notes and other forms of medical documentation, this presents a huge issue for those international students suffering mental health issues or other scenarios which may feasibly prevent them from attending their classes. Therefore, I propose a concrete campaign, by students, to sever the link between class attendance and visa status for international students.

( Undergraduates at Aberystwyth University Ph: Alamy, via The Guardian )

By taking up core issues relating to the debate on international students, students can give themselves a platform and begin to present alternatives to the narrow, one-sided, nationalist discourses currently circulating on immigration in general. This can work to help both international students in feeling wanted and accepted within our campuses and migrants more generally.  It will provide a platform, apt to attract media attention, that puts forward a positive case for immigration.

Now, of course, I am not saying that the linkage between visa status and class attendance is the number one issues international students face. Nor am I saying that class attendance is not something that we should expect from students. What I am saying, however, is that we should be helping international students, making them feel welcome, and taking into account the specific issues they have to face every day. I am also saying that the best way we can help international students, the best way that we can ensure that the public are aware of the specific issues they face as a result of current government policy and discourse, is to take up a central issue, one that will attract political attention, and to pursue it.

we should be helping international students, making them feel welcome, and taking into account the specific issues they have to face every day

Finally, I would just like to say, to all the international students starting at, or returning to UK universities this year: welcome home. Higher education is both the pursuit of truth and the production of knowledge. I know that you make our universities so much culturally, humanly richer, and I thank you for that.

Featured image via Yinbo Yu

 


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