- This guest blog has been kindly written by Dr Diana Beech, CEO of London Higher, the representative body for 50 London universities and higher education colleges, and Professor Nic Beech, Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University London.
- They write here in their capacity as Commissioners on the International Higher Education Commission (IHEC), having recently published insights from international students about their experiences in London. You can view their report here.
- This blog has also been influenced by Diana’s experience as Vice-Chair of a university Board and Nic’s insights as Chair of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSQA). You can follow Diana and Nic on X (formerly Twitter) @dianajbeech and @NicBeech1.
As the world becomes more interconnected, the role of international students in higher education institutions has never been more vital. As well as providing a significant economic boost to the UK economy to the tune of £41.9bn per annual intake, these diverse individuals bring unique perspectives, experiences and ideas to UK campuses and enrich the academic and cultural environment for all. Yet, beyond the lecture halls, there also lies a significant opportunity for international students to contribute to university governance – a realm where domestic students, lay governors and academic staff make up most of the participants.
There are indeed many compelling reasons why international students should be more involved in university governance and this blog sets out the transformative impact this can have on campus life and beyond, bringing benefits to students, institutions and governors alike.
Driving inclusive decision-making through diverse perspectives
First, incorporating diverse viewpoints in university governance structures leads to more well-rounded and inclusive institutional decision-making processes. International students from different backgrounds, cultures, and nations offer fresh insights that can challenge conventional thinking and help break down cultural barriers that may be holding some institutions back from creating truly inclusive communities. For example, by actively participating in governance discussions, international students can contribute to policies that promote equality, diversity and inclusion and foster a more welcoming and supportive campus environment for everyone. In addition, educational and research policies that need to operate for all are improved when there is greater diversity of voice in the development and scrutiny processes.
Increasing global awareness and networking opportunities
University governance decisions often extend well beyond the campus, especially when considering new student recruitment markets or the expansion of university estates. With an international student presence in these discussions, however, institutions can benefit from heightened global awareness, ensuring that policies and strategies are relevant and considerate of a much broader context. Involving international students in governance discussions also allows for the creation of valuable networks that can open doors to new international partnerships, research collaborations and cultural exchanges, contributing to much more globally-connected institutions.
Boosting campus engagement and student satisfaction
When international students are actively engaged in shaping their university’s policies, they can feel a deeper sense of belonging and ownership within their institutions. This engagement can, in turn, lead to increased student satisfaction, improved retention rates, and a more vibrant campus community. By contributing their unique insights and ideas, international students can help create an environment where everyone’s voices are being heard and valued. Listening to international students will also help them both to feel valued and to feel they are getting value from the higher fees that they pay for their courses.
Enhancing skills development and leadership opportunities
Participation in university governance processes provides international students with a platform to develop essential skills that transcend traditional academic knowledge. They can hone their critical thinking, communication, negotiation skills and leadership abilities, preparing them for future roles in a highly creative, globalised workforce. Moreover, as these students take on leadership and governance positions, they not only benefit individually but also inspire others to become proactive contributors to their communities, thereby bolstering the pipeline of tomorrow’s leaders. Many international students have already shown considerable fortitude and resilience in coming to study overseas and learning from their experience can benefit all.
Promoting cultural competence and intercultural learning
Involvement in university governance exposes both international and domestic students, staff and governors to diverse perspectives and cultural norms. This exposure cultivates cultural competence and intercultural understanding within university boards and is a way of upskilling the whole university community. Through meaningful interactions on institutional boards and committees, everyone ultimately learns to navigate differences, communicate effectively across cultures and collaborate more harmoniously—an education that extends far beyond the university boardroom.
Fostering global citizenship
Finally, empowering international students to engage in university governance aligns with the missions of UK higher education institutions to cultivate global citizens who are prepared to tackle complex global challenges. By involving these students in shaping policies that address local, national and global issues, universities can fulfil their aim of nurturing responsible and socially conscious leaders who are well-equipped to make positive contributions to society, regardless of where in the globe they come from.
Incorporating international students into university governance structures is therefore a ‘win-win’ scenario that benefits institutions and their student populations alike. Their diverse perspectives, global awareness, skills development, and cultural competencies enrich decision-making processes, enhance campus engagement, and foster an environment of inclusivity and understanding. As universities strive to prepare their students for a complex and interconnected world, the active involvement of international students in institutional governance is not just desirable but essential. By empowering these students as active contributors, universities can pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future for all.