UK treatment of international students still a joke

The Head of Current Affairs speaks about International Students' treatment in the UK university system.

Elizabeth Meade
4th March 2022
Being an international student away from home is tough enough already. Image Credit: iStock

Many international students want to support strikes. However, it is not fair to expect international students to avoid crossing picket lines, because they must maintain 80% attendance, unlike UK students. An international student avoiding the picket line is risking deportation, while a UK student is only risking a small bit of missed information that they can easily catch up on. Even though international students are paying around three times as much as UK students, they are still deemed unworthy of equal privileges.

What's more, home students pretend to be incapable of understanding this. When I tell home students that they should use their privilege as UK students to support the strikes, they claim their degrees are more important and accuse me of being a hypocrite for not doing the same thing. When I tell them that risking a degree is not the same thing as risking deportation, hence it's really not hypocritical, they pretend to not understand this distinction.

When I tell home students that they should use their privilege as UK students to support the strikes, they claim their degrees are more important

When I explain that the university could just deport me if they didn't like me supporting the striking lecturers, they claim that I could more effectively strike because I'd get extra attention for breaking visa rules and that they'd do the same. I don't think I've ever heard anything so comically ignorant. All I can say to that is that I doubt someone unwilling to risk missing a few classes would be keen to risk having their home and possessions taken away from them.

Beyond the strikes, there is no sympathy for what international students face. I'm sick of being accused of "having a go at my course mates" or "kicking off" when all I want is equal treatment. These comments are starting to get so whiny and humourous that I am considering printing some up and putting them on my wall for when I need a laugh. These are the complaints of children who want their toy back, which would be understandable if they weren't coming out of adult mouths. The toy is "unchallenged wilful ignorance and the privilege to mistreat people who are different".

Whenever I claim that these attitudes are selfish, I am told that my desire to not be deported is also selfish. In reality, nobody should be deported for minor infractions. Strict visa requirements are based on the view that immigrants are trying to "game the system" by using student visas to get full-time jobs. Since many immigrants to the UK are Black, Asian and Eastern European, there are clear racist and xenophobic roots to these policies. Apparently, holding racist views isn't nearly as bad as asking home students to think of others for once in their lives. The shock! The horror!

The UCU has held strike action this year for three weeks. Tweet Credit: twitter.com/ucu

To be completely fair, the US isn't much better. I've been told that I "must be able to take at least a few sick days" when the root problem is not the exact number, but the inequality between what international and UK students get. I have even been told that the fact that the US also treats international students with suspicion makes this treatment acceptable. According to this logic, dishonest heads of state are also acceptable, because both the UK and US have them so they must be just fine.

Not only do UK students have no respect for the massive international student community in Newcastle, they have no respect for lecturers either. Meaningless, performative gestures like waiting for the lecturer to arrive before entering the lecture theatre are common, but fighting for lecturers to have equal pay is not. This demonstrates that however precious these degrees may be, there is no appreciation of the hard work that goes into teaching. If these students really aren't concerned about lecturers, then where do they think their instruction would come from without them? I don't know where the idea that "forcing the most unpaid work possible out of lecturers will somehow lead to positive learning outcomes" came from, but it doesn't make sense.

When you course mates subconsciously see all international students as worthy of dehumanization, it's literally better for your mental health to just not talk to them.

Lastly, the international student experience is actually pretty lonely. It's hard to form relationships when you know that nearly everyone around you will only be nice to you until they suddenly decide you are a vengeful piece of dirt as soon as you complain that they receive benefits that you don't. When you course mates subconsciously see all international students as worthy of dehumanization, it's literally better for your mental health to just not talk to them.

I've been asked repeatedly to stop characterizing UK students as heartless monsters, and for once I will agree with that. Heartless monsters, after all, don't have free will. They munch on armored elves in fantasy games because they know nothing else. Students, however, are much worse, in that they are simply normal people who, faced with the right choice, refuse to make it, despite having the critical thinking skills, political awareness and social power to do so.

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
(she/her) Head of Current Affairs (News, Campus Comment, Comment, Science). Chemistry major. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking. Wrote the first article for Puzzles. Probably the first Courier writer to have work featured in one of Justin Whang's videos.

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