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Making the international students voice heard

Ahead of International Students Day GB Mag caught up with Yinbo Yu, the International Students’ Officer at the National Union of Students (NUS) to talk about his plans to make the international student voice heard on campuses across the UK  and in the corridors of power in Westminster.

His starting point is that whilst studying abroad is an immensely rewarding experience there are growing challenges, some of which he has experienced personally, which need to be addressed to ensure international students have the best experience possible during their time in the UK.

GB Mag: What attracted you to the role of International Students’ Officer?

Yinbo Yu: Having been the international sabbatical officer at UEA and the International Student Officer at UCL I have seen first-hand the challenges and concerns overseas student have. Through these two roles I became increasingly interested in tackling issues affecting international students like myself. I wanted to take the lead to empower more international students to challenge policies and attitudes and realised that the NUS International Students’ Officer would be the best position to achieve this.

GB Mag: How can the UK continue to be an attractive destination for international students 

Yinbo Yu: NUS research shows that most students in the UK felt their degrees would suffer if international student numbers dropped – and 75 per cent of students agreed that international students should be allowed to work in the UK after graduating. 

This overwhelming consensus of opinion highlights the importance of the post-study work visa. I believe that if the UK education sector wants to remain an attractive destination for students from overseas, then it should also offer those students an opportunity to work in the UK after graduating, gaining invaluable work experience and contributing considerable skills and knowledge to the UK workforce and wider economy. 

Furthermore, they must be removed from net migration figures, the UK cannot pretend it is open for talent and is a ‘global’ outward looking nation, whilst its approach on international students suggests it is anything but.  

“75 per cent of students agreed that international students should be allowed to work in the UK after graduating.”

GB Mag: How can the UK continue to be an attractive destination for students from within the EU post Brexit? 

Yinbo Yu: It is deeply concerning to see a 4 per cent drop in EU applicants through UCAS this year because they are not sure of their rights and future in the UK. The political environment is uncertain but the decision makers on Brexit must engage with us and the European Students’ Union going into these negotiations to develop a secure and robust plan of action for current and prospective EU students.

Part of this should be sending out the clear message that EU students are welcome in the UK, and should remain an integral part of the UK education sector. The government must protect the current and future generation of students to be able to access global education, and student mobility around Europe is integral to transformational experiences. Therefore, the Erasmus programme or alternative programmes like it should be a priority in negotiations.

GB Mag: How can students’ unions better serve overseas students?

Yinbo Yu: Whilst every student on campus wants the same thing –a good education - international students face additional barriers that home students aren’t subject to.  

Students’ unions often struggle to engage international students, and this can make it difficult to provide the service they need in the first place. That's why I am working to initiate an ‘Internationalisation Toolkit’ to build better students’ unions where international students feel able to shape and contribute to the democratic process and have their needs for academic representation, welfare support and social activities met. 

GB Mag: Tell us more about the International students in leadership conference

Yinbo Yu: International students have long been under-represented in the student movement. I want to empower international students to demand better representation and be part of the solution. The leadership conference will include inspirational speeches and skills development workshops on topics such as public speaking, political engagement and lobbying.

“I want to empower international students to demand better representation and be part of the solution”.

GB Mag: Why do you feel it is important to commission research on the mental health of international students? 

Yinbo Yu: International students are increasingly facing poorer mental health due to more pressure to succeed, rising costs and inaccessible support services. 

The stigma surrounding mental health is a major barrier for many international students getting support and I believe this is not only a ‘cultural issue’ stemming from different attitudes towards mental health overseas. At NUS, we have done quite a lot of ‘stamp out stigma’ campaigns or similar projects to encourage students to get access to wellbeing services, but no one in the sector has done any research to understand the international students’ experiences of counselling services on campuses, or even understand their needs. 

The reality is that the support services in UK universities are not culturally competent to deal with international students’ issues, particularly when it comes to mental health. 

To join the NUS campaign for international students rights, click here.

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