Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Teaching international students

Shamini Ragavan, Newcastle Law School, Newcastle University


The internationalisation of higher education curriculum in today’s global world is crucial in facilitating better interactions and engagements between all students in any institution (Leask, 2009). The integration of economies, societies and cultures in the ever-expanding process of globalisation has contributed to a sudden upsurge in the number of international students in educational institutions worldwide. Globally, higher education institutions have come to recognise that there is a need to ensure that international students integrate within their particular curricula, and understand the significance of higher education institutions incorporating efficient techniques to ease integration (Leask, 2009).

Support for international students needs to be supportive and sensitively offered. ‘It is commonplace for some universities and university staff to regard international students as “other” and problematic, and advice given to them may sometimes come across as paternalistic’(Brown, 2015). The kinds of experiences that international students confront while in an institution far from home are a factor in deciding their success. It is common to find students withdrawing from their proposed study when faced with negative experiences (Sawir et al., 2007). International students are a diverse group carrying with them a variety of cultural and social backgrounds. Thus, learning patterns and academic expectations differ significantly from one international student to another. The transition is not just about acclimatising their educational pursuits to the new country. Students’ expectations of the new institution and the stories recounted to them about overseas experiences put pressure on them to perform. For obvious reasons, this expectation can cause anxiety within these students, who may then lose interest in their studies. Typically, host institutions ‘benchmark’ these new international students to perform as well as local students. This also increases pressure on them to succeed. Lawrence (2000) observes that some of the initiatives set up by various institutions to facilitate the transition of students of diverse backgrounds do not address adequately the negative experiences.

Tips on teaching international students:

  • Recognise them as being different from the general cohort of students, that is, potentially possessing diverse learning patterns and approaches, with diverse expectations from their prior institutions, diverse cultural expectations and so on.
  • Recognise that their learning expectations may differ significantly from those of home students.
  • Approach teaching international students informally and flexibly.
  • Offer specific support, either in the form of support provided by a dedicated staff member across the year or through a specific support programme created to ease their transitions. Generic support at the start of the academic year alone is not sufficient.
  • Include support for academic transition within the curriculum and not just through pastoral care opportunities.
  • Monitor the psychological and emotional well-being of your international students so you can offer support as necessary.
  • Set up a mentoring scheme as additional support to facilitate the transition of international students and to develop a community amongst them as they continue to support each other.

References and wider reading:

Brown, S. (2015) Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives, London: Palgrave.

Jones, E. and Brown, S. (eds) (2007) Internationalising Higher Education, London: Routledge.

Lawrence, J. (2000) Rethinking Diversity: Re-theorising transition as a process of engaging, negotiating and mastering the discourses and multi-literacies of an unfamiliar culture rather than as a problem of deficit. Conference paper presented at the 4th Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education: Creating Futures for A New Millenium, Brisbane, Australia.

Leask, B. (2009) Internationalisation, globalisation and curriculum innovation, in A. Reed and M. Hellsten (eds) Researching International Pedagogies: Sustainable practice for teaching and learning in higher education, Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Ragavan, S.K. (2009) The role of an international student tutor in a UK law school: A case study, The Law Teacher, 43(3), p. 246.

Ragavan, S.K. (2014) Peer mentoring for international students in a UK law school: Lessons from a pilot case study, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 51(3), p. 292.

Carroll, J. and Ryan, J. (2000) Teaching International Students, London: Routledge.

Sawir, E., Marginson, S., Deumert, A., Nyland, C. and Ramia, G. (2007) Loneliness and international students: an Australian study, Journal of Studies in International Education, 12, p. 148.