Do international students slow down the class?
Source: AFP/Randy Shropshire

Domestic students in Western nations have mixed feelings about their international peers, a new survey has found, with many failing to perceive the benefits of having an international student body.

According to the 2018 Student Academic Experience Survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute and Advance HE, nearly a quarter (24 percent) said international students “require more attention from the lecturer.”

More than one in five (22 percent) believed international students “slow down the class”, while 16 percent said that their presence means that “academic discussions are of a lower quality”, the survey of more than 12,000 British undergraduates found.

Similarly, a 2012 study in Australia found that the presence of non-native English speakers in a tutorial “leads to a reduction in most students’ marks”.

“The effect is strongest as felt by students from English-speaking backgrounds,” according to the paper, published in Economics of Education Review.

This isn’t to say that Australian and British students find only downsides to sharing a classroom with peers from Beijing or Mumbai.

A recent Universities UK International report found that a significant majority (78 percent; close to four out of five) of undergraduate students believing that studying alongside international peers prepares them for working in a global environment.

Students say international students offer them a better worldview, more awareness about cultural sensitivities as well as helping them develop a global network.

Close to three-quarter (73 percent) of the British public register the same positive sentiment, according to the report, which found that this majority would like to see the same number or more international students coming to study in the UK.

Overcoming negative perceptions

Industry figures say this bag of mixed feelings show that the internationalisation process at Western countries higher education scene needs to be improved, Times Higher Education reported.

For Elspeth Jones, emerita professor of the internationalisation of higher education at Leeds Beckett University, this means there needs to be an “internationalisation of the curriculum at home and broader engagement with diversity” so that all students, domestic and otherwise, benefit from having a diverse student body.

Universities need to overcome the negative perceptions some domestic students have about having a diverse student body. Source: AFP/Mike Stobe

At the British government policy level, “there needs to be an awareness that constantly focusing on increasing mobility is not the sole answer to developing global perspectives.”

Gigi Foster, associate professor in economics at the University of New South Wales and author of the Australian study, said there is “much more that could be done to improve the way we handle the increased diversity in Australian student populations”.

This includes more emphasis on English-language competence on campus, “more organised and higher-resourced fighting against organised cheating” as well as a higher appreciation of students’ cultural diversity.

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