International Students Policy


Policy passed at National Conference 2022

The International Student Experience During And Post-Study

The international student experience comprises of a spectrum of different experiences which can directly affect students’ academic performance, mental health and well-being. There are a range of issues affecting International Students both during their time studying and as they move into work. This policy brings together these issues looking specifically at:

• Awareness and institutional accountability
• Greater integration in university communities
• Employability
• Post-study work visas

Awareness and institutional accountability for the rights of international students

What is the issue facing students?

International students often do not receive existing information regarding their basic rights, with a significant impact upon their welfare and transitioning into the UK educational setting.

Looking at the recent international growth charts, it is important to address the huge economic gains the universities would be experiencing. Considering the higher rate of tuition fees the students are charged, there should be equity in the delivery of services.

Some of the issues facing international students concern:

• There a lack of awareness about the information available surrounding how the assessment and grading works in the UK and how to access it. As a result, the first semester normally ends up being a difficult one and considering most of the postgrad courses are one year, it is a very time bound experience.
• Support and advice: By the time students actually get to know about this support service, it is almost the end of their terms. These advisors play a key role in helping students through the various processes; hence awareness is a must.
• Disability Support: There is very limited information around the topic and its dissemination rarely happens within the time scale.
• Less awareness around exam regulations irrespective of the courses and colleges

• Information: Due to lack of awareness around the application process, the available accommodation, the hunting process and the information around the guarantors and the UK system, there has been a massive issue in finding accommodations for international students with dependents

• Students are unaware of the hardship funds, bursaries and compensations that exist. Hence, when facing financial issues, it affects their general performance and experience.

Wellbeing support
• There is less information/awareness about where to find the services/ lack of awareness limited support for disabled students/ financial support for pregnant women

• More information needs to be provided on transport options e.g. long route travel info/ google maps general info, how to use, education around it/ a call out or better labelling for the stops.

What would the world look like if we solved it?

The information exists but needs to be communicated with the students. The solutions are about awareness raising and accountability:
• Student handbook (could be digital and physical)
• Academic info: a regular reaching out to the students assigned a Student Support Adviser.
• More creative and relative ways of communication (more active social media, word of mouth through ambassadors, etc.)



What is the issue facing students?

Integration of International Students
There needs to be more integration of international students into our university communities. More emphasis should be put on mixing of students, and opportunities to exchange cultures. Oftentimes, international students stay within the brackets of their own cultures, and may be afraid to talk to students outside of them. International students often live together and become more secure in their own bubble. It can often be difficult to talk to students outside of their bubble, for fear of not being listened to or understood. Language barriers can be huge for international students, who are not only away from their homes often for the first time, but also in a completely new environment, with no connections. Recognising and acknowledging the different experiences of these students is vital, and should be a key focus for universities. Mental health struggles are also prevalent in these communities, and need to addressed.

What would the world look like if we solved it?
Institutions would put more of an emphasis on activities to encourage mixing of different student groups, whilst recognising the additional struggles that international students face, would be key to addressing this issue, and beneficial to them and home students alike.


What is the issue?

Employability, especially for Black* and international students
In becoming more employer focused, institutions are modifying courses and programs to include a substantive placement. This effort is to ensure that institutions produce highly industrial focused graduates who are prepared for the world of work. While this model has proven to be highly efficient in bridging the gap between theory and practice in all disciplines, there is a gap in synergy between the industries and the institutions on how to integrate these students into these organizations for this crucial part of their academic exercise, and especially so with regards to disciplines within the Arts.

Employability of students from certain programs is a crucial issue, and even more so is the employability of BAME and international students. These groups of students are severely disadvantaged in the Job market. Black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC), and international students are the hardest hit in this problem. More work needs to be done in the political minefield to help them navigate fairly through this process, else they will continue to feel that they need to always work twice as hard than their counterparts to get half of the credit.

The unequal opportunities in employability are compounded with the limitations associated with post work visas for international students introduced on 1 July 2021. Aimed at attracting foreign students and increasing the Government’s revenue, it is discriminating that this two/three-year Post Study Visa does not count towards settlement for employed international students. Notably, some employers are less willing to employ and train students who they will not be able to retain for the long term.
For example, most of our students in the School of Arts will be in a disadvantaged position as the government focuses solely on how quickly they gain employment and how much they earn. Employers are less willing to employ who those they may not be able to retain for the long term. If the graduate count towards settlement it would improve the employability and stability of international students and their dependents. Spouses or dependent of international students that travel with them on the Tier 4 visa should also not be discriminated against especially when finding employment.
International students express concerns that despite going through intensive scrutiny by a system that recruits talented students and investing huge amount of money in the British economy, their applications for a placement or internship face unfair barriers.

What would the world look like if we solved it?
Employability of international students remains a crucial issue. Securing a job with an employer willing to sponsor them for the skilled worker visa is almost impossible. If international students are employed, and pay all taxes during the Post Study Visa, then we believe these years should count towards settlement.

Supporting efforts to make institutions highly industrial focused and bridges the gap between theory and practice by supporting students to be employer ready and fully equipped for the world of work will improve graduates working conditions.

Universities and colleges will produce graduates that are highly industrial focused and employer ready, including having good connections with industry and utilising a variety of connections. This increases the chances of overall employability rate of graduating students, improves their confidence, mental health and overall productivity. BIPOC and international students will feel included and mental health issues caused by repeated rejections from companies will be eradicated.

International students that intend to settle in the UK will have an easier time and will have increased confidence in the Graduate Route Scheme. Employers will be encouraged to employ international students thereby improving international graduates’ quality of life.

This will also improve international student’s wellbeing and mental health, when their spouses or dependent are not discriminated against based on their visa type and when international students themselves are sure of securing a job after their studies and a great future if they intend to settle in the UK.
*Black is an inclusive term NUS uses to denote people of African, Arab, Asian and Caribbean heritage.


What is the issue facing students?

Freelancing under the International Student Visa
International students are unable to legally freelance due to Student Visa restrictions, which prohibit self-employment. The Times reported that 20% of Britons wish to start their own business, with the younger demographics being most interested (Kelly, 2021).

These restrictions cause lack of parity in the international student experience, compared to that of home students. Home students are able to pursue self-employment, they gain industry advantages that international students have no access to due to the visa restrictions on freelancing. This is a systematic issue of how migrants experience a hostile environment set by a government that ignores the needs of international students, seeing them as a money-making source.

International students are able to put their creative work out, in a similar way to home student freelancers, only by providing their works for free. However, doing work for free feeds into a cycle of unpaid work, disproportionately affecting creatives. This cycle also discredits their work.

Being over 1/4 of the student population in UK HE institutions, international students contributed £25.9b to the UK economy in 2018/19 (Universities UK, 2021). The reliance of UK HE on international student fees can be seen at UCL, where “Tuition fees from British students alone fail to meet the costs of undergraduate courses at University College London…forcing UCL and other universities to rely on fees from international students” (Adams, 2021).

According to Student Numbers by Fee Status 2010/11 to 2020/21, UCL’s total student population was 60% home students and 40% international students. In 2021/22, most home students paid £9,250 for tuition, while international fees for a programme such as BSc Physics was £31,200, 3.4x the home fee. Using the percentages mentioned as an example, out of 100 UCL students, 60 home students would contribute £555,000 to the university and 40 international students would contribute £1,248,000.

Why is it important to our movement
27.5% of the total student population are international students, yet, many NUS campaigns and news fail to represent them even when they are affected by policies and actions (Universities UK).

The decline of international students from EU countries in the past year must be taken into account since the UK plans to achieve a significant increase in its international student population by 2030 (Hillman, 2021). Increased career opportunities for the EU students who will now face international fees is an incentive for them to continue enrolling in UK universities and support themselves while studying.

Not many international students will admit to having freelanced, but it can be expected that international students have sold work in the past. With the higher expenses international students face it would be harsh to assume they would freelance to simply gain large profits or have intentions of breaking a visa restriction. Many may not even be aware of such restrictions. By making it legal, the consequences of breaking the law by freelancing “under the table” would be avoided.

What would the world look like if we changed it?

Remarkably, it would be impossible for the UK to have diversity in freelancing if all student freelancers are from the same background: all UK citizens or in settled status. The lack of diversity in young freelancers does not give an opportunity to reflect the cultural richness of the country.

A 20-year upward trend among entrepreneurs in the UK has been brought to a pause by the pandemic, many entrepreneurs were “Largely left to fend for themselves once COVID-19 spread to the UK” (Business Matters, 2020). Other factors contributed to this decline; lack of government support and many EU residents having to leave the country due to Brexit. Based on US News rankings, the UK is fourth worldwide for entrepreneurship. There is room for improvement for the UK on the list.

By allowing international students to freelance, the UK could produce more entrepreneurs. Many students could add valuable small businesses to the country, diversify the self-employment sector, and help the UK rise in rankings for entrepreneurs. Additionally, many international freelancers will also need to pay tax on their income after setting themselves up as sole traders, which will contribute to the UK economy.

Promoting the UK Parliament petition to legalise self-employment for international.


Policy passed at National Conference 2023

International Students 

What’s the issue and how does it affect students?
International students having to pay in order to access healthcare through the NHS surcharge, they have problems transferring their medical records to the UK and end up in situations where their health suffers due to the healthcare system not working for them

Poor representation for international students. The issues surrounding International students are multifaceted and not adequately catered for nationally or at a local level. Universities aren’t interested in listening to international students or making changes to their education. Home students are systematically treated better than international students and are put first, to the detriment of international students.

The visa process is complicated, expensive and places significant barriers to international students' success. The system actively blocks International Students moving their visas to work visas. It takes a huge amount of time to get visas processed which causes financial, health and wellbeing issues.

There is a twenty hour cap of working hours a week for international students which means these students aren’t able to support themselves. There is a perception that all international students are rich but this is a complete false narrative - most international students are struggling financially.

Accessing housing causes extreme hardship for international students who are often having to pay rent upfront for up to the full year of contract. International students also struggle to find guarantors as they are required to be UK based. After getting past these barriers to finding accommodation the quality of accommodation that international students often live in is substandard and under regulated. The other alternatives for accommodation are often air BnB , hotels and expensive private student purpose built student accommodation.

International Students' issues are also often intersectional with these students facing high levels of discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion and other characteristics. Decolonising the curriculum work that is being done in FE and HE are leaving out international voices.

There are not enough national voice structures for international students to fit into, international student voices are traditionally sidelined by NUS and they find it difficult to find spaces where they can advocate for themselves.

International Students’ are often blocked from applying for scholarships and bursaries. They are also often blocked from accessing emergency funds which heightens many of the other issues faced by them. This issue has a disproportionately negative effect on postgrad international students.

What changes would we like to see in society to change this?
Removing the surcharge that international students pay to access the NHS and make the transfer of medical information easier.

Drop the English test for international students, IELTS

Campaign for reduction in visa fees and surcharge, also improvements in the process.

Decolonising FE and HE together.

Increased awareness of the difficulties faced by International students with partners and children and improved access to support.

Create universal Information, Advice and Guidance that will support international students

Set a national cap on international fees

Raise media awareness of International Students issues

Restructure hardship funding to support international students better

Access to bursaries and scholarships for international students

Lobbying universities to increase grants for international students.

Universities to offer to act as accommodation guarantors

Universities to guarantee housing for international students

Remove the cap on hours that international students are allowed to work

Invite national decision makers to conference to speak directly to international students

Set up a task group of international students to lead NUS work on international student issues that would give feedback to government and universities


Policy passed at Liberation Conference 2023

BORDERLESS: Representing and fighting for International Students

What’s the issue and how does it affect students?
The initial policy idea submitted by Aberdeen SU outlines the core aspects of the issues facing international students. Highlighting the Home Office's points-based immigration system turns universities into sponsors for their non-EU students. Sadly, instead of being a safe space, universities reproduce an unwelcoming environment for international students. No access to public funds, strict limitations on working hours, and less internships, scholarships, and employment opportunities are among the many disadvantages faced by them. Meanwhile, most universities are increasingly being funded by international students’ inflated fees (often 3 or 4 times higher than Home/UK ones). In 2020-2021 there were 584,100 overseas students in the UK:  22% of total, 15.7% of all UG and 39.1% of all PG.

Within the workshop, some of the issues explored in depth were finance, health care, wellbeing, support and academic experiences. The issue of finance impacted most if not all students in the room from paying higher fees than their home counterparts, deposits a year in advance, issues around exchange rates and not being able to access hardship funds due to being an international student. The finance discussion also brought up issues around guarantors for housing, as well as higher IHS fees. The high cost of living crisis compared to their home countries was discussed at length with many sharing personal experiences about how this has impacted them, their mental health and in turn their studies. 

As already mentioned through the higher IHS fees, healthcare was then discussed at length around various personal experiences that came out of these discussions. These experiences were often not just of individual students but dependants of students who came to the UK with their families. Issues around finance and healthcare not only impact the person who is studying but their wider family, community and lives. It is important to highlight that these issues are not experienced in isolation but often are experienced together simultaneously as they are so interlinked. This is further evident by the personal stories shared in the room that mentioned stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness which further impacts studies leading to lower grades, higher drop-out rates and lower student satisfaction.

 Students often feel a lack of value of money for the high price tag that they pay, often feeling like cash cows when universities milk them for money and then do not offer support. Students highlighted a lack of career development opportunities, especially in connection to the 20-hour work limit, lack of access to funding and overall experience of cultural appropriation and academic racism. These experiences further contribute to students’ mental health, and questioning if they had made the right decision to come and study in the UK. 


What changes would we like to see in society to change this?

  • NUS to elect an International Student Officer. 
  • Universities being guarantors or alternatively guaranteeing appropriate housing for international students and dependants. 
  • Universities and SUs provide resources and support that resonate and reflect the student population of their institution. 
  • NUS to campaign for the abolition of the 20-hour working limit for international students. 
  • Standardisation of international fees across the UK.
  • Call on universities to stop predatory monitoring activities. 
  • Decolonise the curriculum. 
  • Call on universities to lobby parliament to change visa laws so that time spent on student visas count towards residency. 
  • Develop alumni and current student relationship with the university to develop guidance on placement and career opportunities. 
  • Universities to should liaise with local councils for accommodation for international students and their families. 
  • Access to public funds for international students.
  • Anti Racist and discrimination workshops/training should be compulsory for staff and students. 
  • Work with UCU and Unis Resist Border Controls to push back against the hostile environment and ensure that higher education does not treat international students as cash cows.