Blog 🍎 School 30th September 2022

In Conversation with UK Universities: What Does Student Success Look Like For International Undergraduates?

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

When you hear the phrase ‘student success to you’, what comes into your mind? 

Do you picture your students graduating with a first class degree? Do you ask yourself what career path they might take later in life? Do you find yourself thinking about whether your students will be happy as international undergraduates? 

Which of these best encompass ‘student success’? 

When we put this question to international school counsellors on a recent webinar, the answer we got, perhaps unsurprisingly, was ‘all of the above’ 

And as your students write and submit their university applications in the coming months, another question might be at the forefront of their mind (and their parents’ minds)

‘How do I know I will be successful at university?’ 

The UK remains one of the two most popular destinations for students who use the BridgeU platform, and we were keen to know more about what UK universities are doing to help their students to make the most of their time as an international undergraduate. 

Watch the full webinar

Watch the full webinar and hear the full story on how Liverpool and York are redefining student success.

For our most recent webinar, we were joined by international admissions reps from two Russell Group universities, Caroline Feeley, Deputy Head for International Recruitment at the University of Liverpool, and Nick Skeavington, International Recruitment Manager at the University of York, as well as two international undergraduates studying at the University of Liverpool, Jack and Samriddhi. 

So, how are students defining “student success” in 2022-23? What emerging university initiatives are gaining traction around the world? And how are universities ensuring that students graduate feeling ready to take on the rapidly changing world? 

Read on about our time with York and Liverpool to find out.

How do current international undergraduates define success in 2022-23?

Samriddhi Tandon is a second year Law student at the University of Liverpool. 

Back in secondary school, Samriddhi used to think of student success purely in terms of “getting good grades”. All of this changed, she says, in September 2021, around the time she started university. “I still want good grades,” she explains, but admits she no longer measures her education solely in terms of final results: “I want to learn things, I want to expand my knowledge”.

The other key thing that has changed, for Samriddhi, during her time at university, is that academic success is no longer her standalone concern. Her involvement in the Liverpool Legal Society and Bhangra Society have been instrumental to both her personal and professional development – complimenting her lectures and work experience. 

Being successful, for Samriddhi, is about aiming for academic achievements whilst also “working, socialising, and working on my physical and mental health.” 

Samriddhi’s new definition of student success takes into account her overall wellness alongside her grades, and she’s not alone.

A 2020-21 report from popular UK student forum The Student Room (TSR) listed positive emotional associations alongside practical considerations and employability statistics as the top 3 reasons students have been choosing their institutions since the start of the pandemic.

Similarly, UNESCO’s 2021 paper, Thinking Higher and Beyond: Perspectives on the Futures of Higher Education to 2050, continuously highlights the importance of “wellbeing and sustainability”, stressing “the wellbeing of the Earth” and orienting students towards “justice, solidarity, and human rights”. And, instead of mentioning careers, the paper also re-images the idea of a lifelong vocation as a life project which doesn’t just pay the rent or look good on a CV, but rather “strengthens individuals, their families, communities, and humanity.” 

This emphasis on both individual and collective wellbeing has also been noted by a growing number of nonprofits, education consultants, and universities in North America. At the start of 2019, EAB (formerly the Education Advisory Board)  stated that “for students, success consists not just of good grades and steady progress toward graduation, but a holistic sense of fulfilment.” 

For Liverpool final year Tsun Kiat Ang, who goes by the name Jack, student success is precisely about this kind of holistic fulfilment. Success, for him, is about a mindset, developing an attitude where “you’re trying to beat yourself constantly, to get better and better.” 

 “Student success for me means constant self-improvement and achievement… that means knowledge, responsibility, experience, connection, and, most importantly, wisdom.”

Jack: Final Year Law Student, University of Liverpool

And just like Samriddhi, Jack isn’t applying this mindset solely to his coursework. Vice-President of the Liverpool Malaysian Society and a member of the university’s sailing team, Jack also works as an International Student Ambassador. 

When reflecting on the high points of his university career throughout our webinar, Jack could have easily chosen to end with his being awarded a Liverpool Law School Scholarship. 

But he didn’t – instead, he chose a more personal anecdote, one that reflects not just his academic development, but his personal and professional one, too, acquired through his extracurricular university activities: “previously, I wouldn’t have had the guts to speak  like this in front of a lot people,” he admitted, smiling, “and here I am today, speaking in front of so many.” 

How are universities redefining student support in 2022-23?

As we’ve seen, today’s teenagers and young adults aren’t just thinking of university as a means to an end. Their education, perhaps more so than ever, sounds like it’s more about the journey than it is the destination. 

If this sounds like a cliché, it’s because it is – but one worth taking a closer look at, as it’s a shift we’ve been seeing ourselves on the BridgeU platform, too. In 2022, half of prospective students’ FAQs for universities revolved around the aspects of student life that fall outside of the classroom (think placement and study abroad opportunities, international student intake, accommodation, etc).

In other words, students aren’t just thinking about what  they’ll be learning. More so than ever, they’re concerned about how they’ll be learning it, too. 

When we think about this in terms of the last few years, it makes sense. Debates over how students learn best might be fairly common, but it’s rare for them to be as widespread, and as publicised, as they were throughout the pandemic lockdowns. 

Indeed, the universities who were able to adapt quickly to the pandemic weren’t just good at reacting – they took proactive steps to reconsider the overall student experience and think about what additional support would cater to students not just throughout the pandemic, but beyond it. 

But what does all of this actually look like on the ground? And what can your students expect if they’ll be starting university degrees in 2023, 24, and beyond?

The University of Liverpool

In the heart of one of the UK’s most vibrant student cities, the University of Liverpool is home to 7,000 international students (just under a third of the total student population).

“We all work in education, and we all want our students to be successful. Success is individual to each student, but how can we, as institutions, support that success, whatever it may be, for that individual student?”

Caroline Feeley: Deputy Head for International Recruitment at the University of Liverpool

Under the University of Liverpool’s Student Success Framework, developed by policy advisors, academic experts, and their Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education, student success is broken down into four key roles: 

  • The Academic Adviser
  • Student Experience Teams
  • Peer Mentors
  • The Student

Designed to support all students, it also includes the International Advice & Guidance team, created specifically to cater to the unique needs of international students – including practical help for students settling in a new country. 

All of these roles work across three key areas of success: Academic Success, Personal Success, and Future Success. 

Let’s take a quick look at each of these three key areas in a bit more detail. 

Academic Success

Liverpool aims to ensure that every students’ academic experience allows them to realise their full potential. Examples of Liverpool’s academic framework include ensuring that each student receives peer support from ‘course reps’, allocating evey undergraduate a personal tutor, and helping students edit their work with free proofreading services.

Personal Success

Liverpool’s personal success framework aims to make the university a welcoming and supportive environment, to help all students feel like they belong. 

Examples of the personal success initiatives at Liverpool include guidance on money and finances, mental health and welfare support and over 230 international student societies.

Future Success

International undergraduates studying at Liverpool can access a range of career support initiatives designed to build their skill-set and prepare them for the world of work. These include career coaches and Liverpool’s Handshake programme, that connect students, employers and the careers team.

The University of York

At the University of York, a collegiate campus university located in a historic Roman city, student wellbeing is nested under their 2030 policy “University for Public Good” – a policy name which recalls many of the themes we saw earlier in this post.

Like Liverpool, York also focuses on providing its community of over 5,000 international students (a forth of the total student population) with resources that will not only help them settle, but thrive. 

Through the International Student Support Team, students can access both practical and pastoral help.

“The academic experience can be very different, certainly around writing. For students, we also have an author in residence, so you can go and see a real life author who will work with you on how you write, and how you make your arguments in essays”. 

Nick Skeavington: International Recruitment Manager, The University of York

Driven by the desire to transform “the whole student experience to create high quality, flexible, inclusive and accessible lifelong learning journeys”, York currently breaks student success down into three categories: 

  • Pre-arrival student success
  • Undergraduate student success
  • Graduate & alumni student success

 “Student success starts before their arrival to campus. And we as a university, and also yourselves, as counsellors, advisors, teachers, and those of you supporting your students to make that transition to university can work together.”

Caroline Feeley: Deputy Head of International Recruitment, The University of Liverpool

It can be hard enough for students to envisage juggling their future university workloads – especially if they’ll be getting used to a new academic culture, language of instruction, or field of study.

But add culture shock, home-sickness, and the heaps of paperwork that tend to accompany moving abroad and it’s not uncommon for students to get overwhelmed or discouraged. 

Preparing your students for this transition starts by informing them… knowledge is power, after all! 

One of the best things you can do, as a counsellor, is to help your final year students come up with their own definition of what student success means to them, just as Jack and Samriddhi did.

Beyond this, the key is to ensure that your students are aware that support is available from their future institution – yes, even as incoming, or prospective, students.

To learn more about Liverpool and York’s student success initiatives, watch our full webinar by clicking below. And keep an eye out for future webinars with UK universities in coming months. 

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