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.
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.