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Tuesday, 11 August 2020

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Plans to support international students despite 50% drop in numbers

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FRIENDS International announced today that it is accelerating plans to support international students as they return to universities in September 2020, despite forecasts predicting that numbers of international students could fall by as much as 50%.

In spite of this unprecedented drop in numbers, up to a quarter of a million international students are expected to enrol for the new term and Friends International is expanding its programme to include online courses, English conversation classes, local student cafés, and a bespoke mobile app to support students during this unusual and challenging time.

In the previous academic year, Friends International engaged with over 11,000 international students through its local centre network, international cafés, hospitality initiatives and training programmes, but plans underway for the new term hope to build on that number.

Alan Tower, National Director of Friends International, said:

“Our vision is to offer friendship and faith and support to every international student studying in the UK. Despite the drop in numbers, there will still be thousands of international students arriving in the UK for the new term; on their own, miles from home and in need of our support.”

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, recent research by London Economics for the University and College Union [UCU] forecast a 47% drop in international students, costing the sector an estimated £1.5billion and jeopardising 60,000 jobs across the UK. However, the report suggested the outlook is not all bleak as many internationals are expected to defer their studies and resume their courses once the economy recovers and fears about their health and safety subside.

Alan continued:

“The situation post-COVID-19 continues to be uncertain and universities fear that students will not sign up with them if they do not have a ‘physical presence’ offering, while many universities rely on students renting their accommodation and utilising in-house catering facilities to supplement their income.

Some universities, such as Cambridge, have announced lectures for the upcoming academic year will be online, while seminars and tutorials will be held in person as normal or ‘mixed-mode’ as it’s now called. Many universities appear to be following similar approaches and Friends International have been asked to partner with a number of universities, including Southampton, Edinburgh and Newcastle, to offer pre-sessional students English conversational classes. At Southampton, the Friends International team were called in because university staff recognised that international students would not have the opportunity to socialise or practise English in a relaxed setting before the start of their course.

Alan concluded:

“Probably more than at any time in our recent past, international students need the support that Friends International is shaping up to provide. Covid19 has resulted not only in interruption of their studies for many international students but challenges to their emotional and mental wellbeing that must not be ignored. Come September, we will be on the frontline doing everything we can to support these students.”

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