The past few years have witnessed a pronounced shift in priorities for many universities as concerns for student wellbeing grow. The Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, in their own ways, have placed questions of accessibility and inclusion firmly on the agenda of management and leadership in higher education.
Attention directed at students’ mental health, sense of belonging and ability to access opportunities is commendable. The challenges faced by students arriving from overseas are in many ways exacerbated, and policies and practices need to be examined in how they may affect that particular segment of the student body.
The following are my recommendations to assist in the successful integration of international students. At the same time, they are also useful in supporting domestic ethnic minority students.
Providing effective and sensitive support
In attempting to identify the particular needs of international students, it is important not to fall into an exercise of “Othering”, meaning a characterisation of the needs and habits of certain ethnicities arriving from abroad which is overtly portrayed as, or insinuated to be, fundamentally different to local students. This approach not only fails to appreciate the various cultures already present in the domestic student body, but it can further perpetuate stereotypes, and through the exoticization of international students, create a sense of segregation, not at least in the minds of teaching and professional services staff, which is counter-productive to the aim of assisting integration.
While a variation in existing skills, as compared to domestic students, may be anticipated and effectively planned for, it should not be framed as a deficiency or lack, as this impliedly posits certain teaching and learning approaches as better than others. This would be particularly detrimental where practices of the Global North are presented as superior to those of the Global South. Instead, an understanding of the strengths inherent in different educational systems should be established and built upon, while being mindful of the historical, cultural and socio-economic circumstances present in the process.
International students should be introduced to the generally accepted customs and culture of British universities, but it is imperative that this is done gently and does not amount to a forceful breakdown of previously held values. Again, care should be taken here not to posit local conventions as in any way worthier or more advanced.
In seeking to address the various issues sensitively, managers and leaders in higher education may decide to employ the services of consultants or external advisors. The problem which arises here is that external expertise is primed to supply easy, ready-made guidance, which in the present context can lead to oversimplifications and cement the type of stereotyping alluded to above. A more nuanced approach is likely to be achieved through engagement with existing staff of ethnic minority or international backgrounds, in a manner which values their professional experience as well as cultural knowledge.
The previous recommendation notwithstanding, while their heritage certainly supplies them with specific insight, ethnic minority staff remain at the receiving end of structural inequalities in society, and the weight of having to educate their colleagues in this regard can be experienced as a particularly difficult and heavy burden. Just as a student should never be singled-out as the designated representative of their culture, nationality or religion, neither should a member of staff. Rather, it is the responsibility of all members of an organisation to educate themselves and interrogate their own position and privilege, whatever it may be.
Guarding against complacency
Arguably the most significant danger to achieving an inclusive and accessible environment is the conviction that an institution’s professed commitment to these values is sufficient or already established. This attitude is more likely to create blind spots in the delivery of services, resting as it does on assumed or past laurels.
In higher education, the work of creating an equitable learning environment is an ongoing one, with no final destination.
Dr Nandini Boodia-Canoo is a Senior Lecturer at Bloomsbury Institute London, where she acts as the Academic Lead for Equality Diversity and Inclusion as well as the Deputy Manager of Bloomsbury Law Clinic.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2023 – Call for papers
Taking place on 15-16 March 2023 under the title The Shoulders of Giants: Listening, Learning and Improving our Practice, our next equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) conference will focus on six themes relating to the enhancement and advancement of EDI in HE.
We are currently welcoming submissions for oral presentations, workshops/interactive sessions, and poster presentations that address these themes, highlighting examples of the best and most innovative practice from around the world.
Deadline for submission is 12:00 (BST) on 3 October 2022. Find out more
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion workshops
Advance HE’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion workshops are designed to provide participants with the skills, knowledge and confidence to adopt an intersectional approach to understanding and dealing effectively with a range of equality and diversity issues in the workplace.
· Challenging privilege, navigating intersectionality - 6 and 20 October 2022 (Two half-day modules)
· Allyship and the anti-racist campus - 23 November and 7 December 2022 (Two half-day modules)
· Inclusive Leadership - 18 October, 3 and 10 November 2022
Inclusive learning and teaching workshop series
A series of workshops focused on equality, diversity and inclusivity topics to support practitioners, managers and leaders within HE institutions.
5% Multi-booking discount - Institutions/individuals looking to book multiple workshops in our Inclusive Learning and Teaching workshop series will receive a 5% discount when booking all five workshops. Each workshop can be attended by a different individual from the same institution.
· Introduction to EDI in Teaching and Learning (18 October and 1 November 2022)
· Inclusive and Equitable Assessment and Feedback (15 and 29 November 2022)
· Inclusive Curriculum (6 and 15 December 2022)
· Inclusive Student Engagement and Partnership (10 and 24 January 2023)
· Leading on Inclusive Teaching and Learning (9 and 23 February 2023)