FRIENDS International is to open its first new local centre for two years, to serve and support international students in the Sunderland area. Staff at the new centre will predominately work alongside international students at Sunderland University, a public research university with approximately 20,000 students.
The new centre forms part of an ambitious new expansion plan for Friends International, who are taking on nine new staff this month to bolster its existing teams providing friendship and faith to students in Oxford, Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as its ‘Arts’ team in London. In total, Friends International now runs a network 34 local centres throughout the UK and Ireland reaching and supporting over 10,000 international students every year.
Alan Tower, National Director of Friends International, said:
“Our target is to reach 12,000 international students in the coming academic year, an increase of 20%, by offering online courses, English conversation classes, student cafés, Bible study courses and a hospitality programme, all designed to help international students navigate the perils of living and studying in a foreign country.”
In the last decade, numbers of international students have risen steadily. The latest figures show there were 450,000 international students studying at UK universities in 2019 and approximately another half-million studying at language schools. However, following the Coronavirus pandemic universities have been expecting a substantial fall in the numbers of international students enrolling, although the latest figures painted a more optimistic picture. Speaking at the Holyrood, Richard Lochhead MSP, Minister for Higher and Further Education, said there was an overall increase of three per cent in the number of international students accepting places in Scotland, another record year, but urged caution and said universities would not be certain [of the numbers] until further into the academic year.
With the unparalleled degree of uncertainty facing all students embarking on a new academic year, Friends International have recognised international students need their support more than ever. Covid19 has resulted not only in interruption of their studies for many international students but also challenges to their emotional and mental wellbeing that cannot be ignored.
Alan Tower concluded:
“Our vision is to offer friendship and faith and support to every international student studying in the UK and Ireland, and this expansion is another small step on the road to the realisation of that vision.”