Home Office: It is NOT OK to ask our students about the impact of ‘International Students’ on their experience of University life

I became aware yesterday that numerous UK universities had sent out emails from the Migration Advisory Committee, who had been commissioned by the Home Office to survey students on the “impact” of “International Students” on their experience of University life.

home office MAC 1

The survey invites students to express attitudes about international students as if that was a real thing. International students are not a homogenous group. In my long experience as an academic working with students from the UK and from other countries, I’ve worked with great international students, weak international students, rewarding ones, challenging ones, funny ones, brilliant ones, angry ones, sad ones, friendly ones, introverted ones…. Pretty much exactly the same list as I would generate about UK home students.  International students come from a huge range of backgrounds, they are as diverse, complex, and exciting to work with as UK based students are. Why would they not be?

In case you were unsure that this survey is a thinly veiled exercise in generating xenophobic attitudes, let’s look at the opening question.



Looking at question 3, it is clear that an attempt to introduce bias is present here from the outset. The survey question establishes a set of social conditions in which there are ‘people like us’ – those born in the UK, or who are British citizens – and ‘the other’. In a single question, they have established the invitation to engage in what social psychologists term ‘intergroup behaviour’. They have established two clear social classes – an ingroup and an outgroup – and invited our students to identify with the one that implicitly is positioned as mattering – UK students.  The “international student” is constructed here as outsider, not even worthy of identification, a homogenised mass of other-ness.

The survey continues along the same vein, asking students whether they affiliate with the International Other, whether they are ‘impacted’ socially positively or negatively by the other’s presence, whether their education is positively or negatively impacted.

In a multitude of ways the message is conveyed that the experience of the UK student is to be centred. How do ‘They’ affect you is the only question that matters. The International Student is considered of value only insofar as they positively impact UK students, and heaven help them if the hegemonically positioned British student suggests that the presence of foreigners in ‘Their’ universities troubles them.

Nobody seems remotely concerned about the impact of this survey on the wellbeing of the International Students it implicitly problematises. Nobody seems concerned about how they experience British students, or how regimes of observation, regulation and othering impact them.

I am enraged that the home office has seen fit to commission and distribute such a survey. I am disgusted that some universities have agreed to distribute it. I am offended that my international colleagues and students  have been constructed so problemmatically in a document that invites xenophobia and creates the conditions for its expression. I hope you are enraged too. 

How do we react to this? Some have suggested subverting the survey, which is publically available and can easily be completed by anyone – there is no way that the Migration Advisory Committee can establish whether survey participants are really students (UK or otherwise!) or not. This is perhaps one way of tackling the problem – though I guess there is a risk that xenophobes also respond in this way. If you feel this is the right response, here’s the link:  Home Office Survey on the impact of international students

If you don’t do this, please do complain – to your union, your student union, your MP, the Home Office. Please raise your voice, and ensure that this kind of xenophobia has no place in UK universities.



12 thoughts on “Home Office: It is NOT OK to ask our students about the impact of ‘International Students’ on their experience of University life”

  1. Excellent article to an asinine survey inviting the valorisation of systemic inferential AND explicit racism. Home Office obviously xenophobic: please remove this offensive invitation for every racist idiot to engage in sanctioned bullying.

  2. The other creepy thing is it focuses a lot on who you are living with and if you are having a good time. Student sharing is almost universally awful so it feels like this is designed to prompt segregation and dissent.

  3. This article is utterly hysterical. What sort of mental acrobatics did you have to engage in to come to the conclusion that international students don’t exist? Please. All surveys require at some level aggregation. International students are clearly distinguishable from non-international students. Simple: they’re not from the UK. There’s nothing problematic about that and there’s certainly nothing xenophobic about using that as a proposition.

    Heaven forbid that the government should use an anonymous survey (“sanctioned bullying” is another extraordinarily inverted interpretation in the above comment) to inquire as to an aspect of it’s own citizens lives.

    Such synthetic outrage, and not even an anecdote of a single international student which has actually been offended in the manner you claim. They must not abide by the same outrage superhermeneutic that you’ve decided to use.

    1. “someone”, eh?
      seems legit.

      Although I was quite cross at the time of writing, I assure you my womb was unmoved.
      Thanks for your really helpful contribution to the discussion though.
      May I suggest you pop off and read some Tajfel and Turner?

      1. Took a quick look at Tajfel and Turner, I see the implication.

        As an axiom it’s fine, but it doesn’t satisfy the various other conjectures made above. As arguments from authority rarely, if ever, do.

      2. I think you’ll find the evidence of social psychology on intergroup relations and implicit bias is rather on this Hysterical Woman’s side.

        But that’s enough debate with anonymous someones for one evening. I’m off to make dinner.

    2. I dont believe that an otherwise non racist person will suddenly become a Nazi because of the “unconscious” effects of a survey that is trying to empirically determine the wellbeing of British students towards which they have a special duty.

      Distinctions between subject matter of course have to be made in studies such as these and I doubt the home office is concocting a vast conspiracy to incite hatred towards international students.

      1. well I don’t think I suggested Nazi transformation is really on the cards.

        but there is a huge literature on survey construction that would have helped the person who produced the questionnaire to avoid the very leading nature of the survey. And that literature does make it quite clear that questionnaire construction can and does influence participant responses.

      2. I appreciate that and I do think you are well intended, but I observed two different claims you’re making. Do you think the Home office is trying to spread anti-international student sentiment OR is it to manipulate these survey results to make some conclusion? (apparently to show international students are a bad influence) What motive could they possibly have for absurdly doing so when international students pay bucket loads of money to universities and economy?

        I’m just concerned there is excessive anxiety towards the let’s say “divisive” tone of the survey and the making of distinctions between different classes of people which are both necessary in public policy. I think this survey could be enlightening for the government in measuring the effects of visiting students.

        The Windrush scandal was awful and the Home office is clearly a mess, but we mustn’t conflate different issues, otherwise our future criticisms become cheapened and easily disregarded.

      3. Also, you’ve alluded to how international students are not homogenous and are extremely diverse and therefore cannot be lumped together. This is self-evidently true in any university, but if that’s the case, how can coherent incitement of discrimination against them be possible?

  4. Thank you for this beautifully written and succinct article. I think they have removed the link – their message in its place has a passive aggressive tone which is familiar to those of us who have had to learn about the masquerade of power that those who are found out being monstruos need to do in order to parade themselves as smelling of roses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s