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Globalising the student experience

Tuesday 05-08-2014 - 00:00

More and more students are choosing to spend time abroad as part of a course, while a large number of foreign students continue to come to the UK each year. Catherine Thwaites, NUS Scotland international education officer, explains how the student experience is going global.

Globalising the student experience

Five years ago the Scottish government noticed a decline in the number of Scottish students takingup the EU’s Erasmus programme. The government recognised the value of the international student experience, and began to fund NUS Scotland to run projects that encourage Scottish students to study abroad.

Through these projects, NUS Scotland has promoted study-abroad opportunities to Scottish students, and created partnerships on a national level to enable students to engage with the global agenda within their institutions at home.

Our current project, Investing in Scotland’s Global Future, promotes opportunities to study abroad and fosters intercultural awareness through mentoring, work with schools and local authority partners, while also engaging directly with universities and colleges.

Through our Developing Scotland’s Graduates for the Global Economy research, it has become clear that Scottish students, while keen to study abroad, do not have enough information about the opportunities available to them, and see many barriers to achieving it financially, linguistically and personally.

Meanwhile, the UK hosts the second highest number of international students in the world. They account for 17.1 per cent of the total UK student population according to UNESCO. It is therefore paramount that students’ unions are welcoming environments to students from all backgrounds, including international students.

This is why considering internationalisation in the round, and not simply catering to separate groups of ‘home’ and ‘international’ students, is key to fostering a truly globalised post-16 education sector.

Expansion of exchanges

Since the inception of the Scotland Goes Global project, there has been an expansion, not only in the numbers of students coming into Scotland to study, but also in students taking part in exchanges.

Simultaneously, students’ unions have expanded their services for international students, and increased the range of clubs and societies dedicated to bringing students from different cultures together. 

Colleges and universities too are beginning to globalise their strategies, by creating more opportunities for home students to study abroad as well as prioritising international student recruitment.

The benefits to students are tangible: 92 per cent of students surveyed by NUS Scotland said they believed studying abroad made them more employable. Now, all UK universities recruit international students, and many colleges attract students from diverse parts of the world. 

Student experience is international

Successful links with study-abroad and international offices can lead to the creation of fruitful partnerships and links. Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) has linked up with the institution to offer short-term study-abroad opportunities to students from a variety of backgrounds.

This has helped to enhance the study opportunities for those students, the reputation of the student union and the global student experience.

Briana Pegado, president of EUSA, said: ‘Increasingly the student experience is international. We live in a world where we interact with many different cultures within different academic disciplines.’

Fortunately, many worthwhile new initiatives including international student buddy schemes, language cafes and even students’ union exchanges are beginning to take place in students’ unions across the UK.

These are being showcased at the NUS International Awards, which take place annually.  Volunteering opportunities for international students can also provide a feeling of community engagement, and have proven to be very popular among the student population.

All of these activities help students to connect across cultures and feel at home in their new surroundings.

As Gandhi said: "The golden way is to be friends with the world and to regard the whole human family as one.’ NUS Scotland is working on a series of mentoring schemes, organising training in schools and engaging with employers. All of our work is designed to encourage universities and colleges to enhance their study-abroad initiatives."

For information on Scotland Goes Global, contact Catherine Thwaites: catherine.thwaites@nus-scotland.org.uk or visit our website: www.scotlandgoesglobal.co.uk

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