How to tailor support for international students

Dr Ally Lu and Professor Malcolm Tait from Urban Studies and Planning have seen great results by offering tailored support to their international students.

students in Urban Studies and Planning

Urban Studies and Planning has 250 undergraduate and 130 postgraduate taught students, and has seen a significant increase in the proportion of international students. In 2008 approximately 10 per cent of all students were international and in 2016 this had risen to 50 per cent (and 80 per cent at PGT level). The majority of international students are from China and Hong Kong, although this is becoming more diverse.

The rise in international students presents some opportunities:

  • A more diverse classroom, reflecting the wider ambition of the department to develop its international profile
  • The opportunity to reconfigure teaching, for example the introduction of international field courses
  • More international students offsets the decrease in home student numbers due to recession

But it also presents some challenges:

  • Some mismatch between expectations of international students and our pedagogic approach, especially critical social scientific approach
  • Weaker academic performance from many international students
  • Some issues of inter-cultural working, especially in group work
  • Problems in understanding the student recruitment situation in key markets, especially the role of agents in China, meant poor conversion rates and inadequate preparation of students
  • Lack of understanding of the employability situation faced by international students

So the department has put a number of support mechanisms in place:

  • Initial trial of international PhD students as mentors
  • Recruitment of an International Student Tutor in early 2013
  • Light touch curriculum review across all PGT programmes to introduce a more international focus to modules
  • The introduction of an induction project for all PGT students aimed at enhancing inter-cultural working and preparation for studies
  • Development of programmes and modules aimed at an international student market, for example MA Urban Design and Planning and specialist design software teaching
  • An international placements scheme with Chinese planning agencies and consultancies
  • Cultures of leaning sessions including group work and intercultural working, plagiarism and unfair means, critical reading and note-making, critical thinking, how to plan your dissertation, how to write your dissertation

And has achieved the following results:

  • The proportion of international students failing modules has halved. Less than 20 per cent of international undergraduate students and around 20 per cent of international postgraduate taught students now fail a module
  • International student recruitment has grown, but with higher entry grades
  • Better engagement with employers and understanding of the jobs market in key locations has helped more international students find employment
  • A more satisfied and better supported cohort of international students who are more engaged in the life of the department. For example, around half of all student reps are now international students.