International students should be represented in key governance structures in universities, and nationally 

A policy note entitled “Expressing the international student voice: What international students in London tell us about their experiences of studying at university” by London Higher and Middlesex University London provides insights into the experiences of international students in London’s higher education institutions. 

London, 6 September 2023 – London Higher, a voice of 50 higher education institutions in the capital and Middlesex University London, has released a comprehensive report titled “Expressing the International Student Voice: What international students in London tell us about their experiences of studying at university.” This paper, prepared for the International Higher Education Commission (IHEC), offers valuable insights into the perspectives of international students studying in London. 

The report captures the outcomes of a roundtable discussion held at Middlesex University London on June 20, 2023, and some recommendations. The discussion brought together international students from various London universities, and a range of backgrounds and academic levels. The aim was to gain a deeper understanding of the international student experience in London and to provide recommendations for enhancing their university journey. 

The report highlights a range of factors that influence international students’ experiences in London: 

  1. Reasons for choosing London: International students are drawn to London for its world-class education, career opportunities, cultural diversity, and vibrant city life. London has been consistently ranked as the Best Student City due to its outstanding universities and global openness. 
  2. Expectations and arrival: While universities facilitate a welcoming environment, the bureaucratic challenges of arriving in the UK can be isolating for international students. Paperwork related to visas, insurance, and accommodation, along with difficulties in obtaining necessary documents, can affect students’ entry into the country. 
  3. Study experience: London universities generally meet the high academic expectations of international students. However, some may face challenges adjusting to different teaching methods, and there’s a need for greater preparation to accommodate students with educational backgrounds different from English GCSEs and A-levels. 
  4. Cost of living and employment: The rising cost of living in London is a significant concern for international students, who often find it challenging to balance their expenses. Limited working hours, especially for those on Tier 4 visas, can hinder students’ ability to earn extra income. The paper suggests collaboration between universities and businesses to provide better work opportunities for international students. 
  5. Transport and accommodation: London’s extensive public transport comes at a cost, often impacting students’ finances. High accommodation costs push students further away from the city centre, affecting their commute times and overall experience. Better accessible and affordable housing options are needed to alleviate these challenges. 
  6. Student support and societies: Universities offer essential support services, but international students can face difficulties accessing healthcare. Engagement in clubs, societies, and student unions helps create a sense of belonging and community. 
  7. Representation and governance: The report emphasizes the importance of including international student perspectives in higher education governance structures. The creation of an international student panel within regulatory bodies and academic forums is suggested to ensure their voices are heard on key decisions. 

Based on the findings, the paper offers several recommendations to enhance the international student experience in London: 

  1. Employability and cost relief: Collaborate with London businesses to simplify the employment process for international students, providing them with diverse work opportunities to cover living expenses. 
  2. Better accessibility to essentials: Retain cash payment options at on-campus shops to ease the financial burden on international students awaiting bank account setups. 
  3. Integration and sense of belonging: Partner with local councils to provide pre-arrival information about borough services and community groups, encouraging students to integrate into local communities. 
  4. Transportation: Review off-peak travel restrictions for student travelcards to ensure flexibility in travel without added costs. 
  5. Representation and governance: Ensure international student representation in key governance structures at both institutional and national levels, giving them a voice in important decision-making processes. 


Commenting on the paper, Dr Diana Beech, CEO of London Higher said:
“This paper provides a comprehensive understanding of the experiences and challenges faced by international students studying in London. As CEO of London Higher, I am committed to ensuring that our vibrant city remains an attractive and supportive destination for students from around the world. The findings in this report will guide us in collaborating with our member institutions and partners to enhance the overall experience for international students, from their arrival to their academic journey and beyond. By addressing the issues highlighted in the report and implementing the recommended actions with our partners across London, we can collectively create a more inclusive and enriching environment for all students in London.” 

Professor Nic Beech, Vice-Chancellor at Middlesex University London said: 

“Much has been written about international students, but our consultation emphasised that international students do not form a homogenous group and the range of their educational interests and concerns is not so different to those of UK students. The crucial thing is for us to treat international students as people, not numbers, and to make sure we are listening, responding and co-designing with them.”