Speaking for Ourselves

Why isn't the Government supporting international students?

Why isn't the Government supporting international students?

Sinenhlanhla Zondo

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Why isn't the Government supporting international students?

International students in the UK bring in over a whopping £4.8 billion a year in tuition fees and an additional £5.4 billion in accommodation, food and other expenditure. 

What the government forgets, however, is that international students are often from low- and middle-income families. Most are motivated by the pursuit of better opportunities and international experience. We are not born with silver spoons in our mouths: we are dependent on scholarships and part-time jobs to get by. 

But unprecedented times means that we have moved from lecture halls, labs and libraries to online seminars in our rooms. While most British students have the luxury of going home and of meeting family and friends, albeit socially distanced, international students have been far from family and friends for over three months. We are also out of employment and are knee-deep in academic pressure, yet our tuition fees are still feeding the economy. 

As an international doctoral student, I am also a part of a group that contributes an immeasurable wealth of knowledge through research.

Unfortunately, I and others in my position are also among the last to be considered for support during this time. Though universities have put various funds in place for student support, many of us are either ineligible or are awaiting decisions which might take months, while seeing some of the billions of pounds we bring being allocated to other sectors.

When I first applied to UK universities I envisioned a new chapter that would allow me to explore Europe, make new friends and colleagues and develop academically. Most of those plans have been erased because I have been stuck in my room, socially distancing. No-one could have predicted this situation, but I am disappointed that all the money spent to access facilities and opportunities has now gone to waste. 

I am especially disappointed in the lack of prioritisation of international students in government plans. Instead, the government focuses on trying to get more students enrolled for the upcoming academic year, while barely coping with the current cohort. The focus on online support and continued teaching is publicised as if we are supposed to be happy that we are getting an education while stressing over where our income is going to come from. 

As a partially funded student, I do not receive funding or a stipend from the university, so I am responsible for all my living costs. I had been getting by on my savings and on part-time jobs, which have been completely halted. I spend hours searching the internet for opportunities, but I am also faced with the tough decision of whether to stay home and protect myself from the virus or to go out and try to generate an income. This has obviously affected my productivity levels because it takes time away from my research and weighs heavily on my mind. 

I do not consider myself the worst case, but I have no clue how long I will be able to sustain my living costs with my dwindling funds. All conversations with other international students are about financial worries and sharing possible work. Some students have to provide for their spouse and children, others are juggling with their academic work. It all has an effect on our mental wellbeing. 

News headlines are focused on how the government wants to ease to visa restrictions to allow more students in 2020/2021. Yet there is nothing on how it plans to support them once they get here, which further reflects how international students are viewed as piggy banks for the economy. 

Unashamedly, the focus is solely on protecting the plummeting economy by getting more money from international students. it would be great if funds were allocated to support the various funding initiatives originally proposed by universities to support international students. This will not only support more students in need but will appeal to other prospective students concerned about sustaining themselves once they get here. 

Most importantly, I think the government should treat international students as the valued contributors they are and show the same compassion as it does for others during this time.


This article was written and published as part of Migrant Voice's International Students Week (13-17 July 2020). We're celebrating international students in the UK and raising their voices on the issues that affect them. Read more here.


TOP IMAGE: Sinenhlanhla Zondo, supplied by herself