How universities can help international students succeed

By Vaughan Leyshon, Centre Director, University of Sussex International Study Centre

Many international students are unprepared for degree level study in the UK. Cultural and academic challenges, limited English and homesickness can all contribute to an already daunting journey, making progression straight to an English university harder to achieve. 

Pathway programmes can provide international students with important skills and support to ready them for degree level study in the UK, however they don’t guarantee entry. By working closely with their pathway providers, universities can ensure that the vast majority of international students progress to degree-level study. At the University of Sussex International Study Centre (ISC), we have a 99.7% progression rate, and can highlight five areas that are key to ensuring students’ academic success at both the ISC and the University.

Pastoral care: look out for your students’ well-being

It’s important to get international students busy and involved in their new environment as soon as possible. Is there a university charity that needs help with fundraising? Or a social event that needs planning? Working together on particular activities can help students overcome any feelings of isolation or loneliness that can negatively impact their studies. The sooner they are able to build supportive connections and relationships within the UK, the easier it is for them to adjust to their new surroundings. 

Academic support is vital too. Often international students may appear to be falling behind in their studies, but just need additional English lessons to help them understand faster and communicate better. Tutors and academic staff should be encouraged to flag any students who are struggling to keep up, and work with them to get them back on track. 

Choose the right people 

Proper academic and pastoral care depends on the abilities, experience, and knowledge of your staff. Both your academic and student support staff play an important role in helping international students progress successfully from a pathway programme onto a university degree, and need to have a good understanding of all the issues they could encounter along the way. Many of the staff at our ISC also teach at Sussex or other universities, and this breadth of experience is important when it comes to supporting, integrating and preparing students for degree-level study.

Work with the pathway programme

For international students to progress successfully to university, all the pathway programmes’ course material and processes need to be aligned with the progression degrees at the university. University faculty and the pathway provider’s academic team need to work closely together to ensure that the curriculum, academic level, types and frequency of assessments, and teaching and reading materials are all in sync.

Our 99.7% progression rate is a direct result of the solid relationship between us and the university, ensuring that all our international students are given the best possible opportunity to excel in their studies

At the Sussex ISC we work closely with partnership tutors from the University of Sussex, who talk to students on the pathway programmes about their upcoming university experience. The more familiar these students are with what to expect, and what will be expected of them, the better they can finalise their choice of degree course and successfully complete their studies. 

Use technology to reach and teach students

In an increasingly digital world, technology is used more and more as a teaching tool, facilitating regular communication between tutors and students about their academic performance. For example, the platform Turnitin acts as a virtual classroom and allows students to submit assignments and tutors to share prompt feedback – all online. This kind of tech facilitates regular and ongoing communication about students’ progress and makes sure that no students are falling behind.

Stay in touch with the talent spotters

Agents are often a student’s first introduction to a university or pathway programme. They play a crucial role in advising students on what course to take, and what university to apply to. Make sure that they have all the up-to-date information they need to best inform students about your institution and its courses. This is an important step as it helps to educate students about their options and ensures they make an informed choice about the best course for them. 

Success starts now

The more qualified and experienced people you have working together from the beginning to support your international students, the more likely they will progress successfully from the pathway programme to their degree. Our 99.7% progression rate is a direct result of the solid relationship between us and the university, ensuring that all our international students are given the best possible opportunity to excel in their studies.

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