Strategies to Provide Wraparound Support for UK International Students

Each year the Universities UK International Higher Education Forum (IHEF) brings together senior leaders in higher education from across the UK to discuss the most pressing challenges facing higher education.

With over 600,000 international students enrolled in UK universities in 2020-2021, this important student cohort comprises 22% of all higher education students in the UK. Supporting and understanding the needs of these students is critical to providing the best possible student experience before, during and after their period of study – an issue recently amplified by the challenges faced during the pandemic.

To address these issues, Symplicity’s Adam Powell, Director of Client Success (UK and Europe) and Theo Cooke Student Services Lead (UK and Europe) were thrilled to join this year’s conference to curate a session entitled: “League table and litigation: Mitigating future risks and ensuring your international student experience remains world-class.”

To support this discussion, Symplicity’s Powell and Cooke were joined by two leading industry practitioners:

  • Alexis Brown, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI); and
  • Lisa Umenyiora, Executive Director of Careers and Student Life at Imperial College Business School.

Here are some session highlights:

International Students = Longevity of Universities

Income from international students will be more important than ever for future economic stability for higher education institutions across the UK. Higher education will need to invest more in career development activities as research suggests nearly three-quarters of all international students intend to work in the UK post-graduation. Alexis Brown spoke on the recent research from her work at independent think tank Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) which surveyed over 1,000 international students finding that 82% of them say career support was either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to them when choosing a university in the UK. Yet, just half (52%) of these students think their university is doing enough to support them.

So, what can institutions do?

Embedding career readiness programmes and support into academic curricula can increase student engagement and satisfaction. Additionally, career services need to “develop stronger awareness of what is legally possible in terms of the employment of international students… and employers need more support from career services,” said Dr. Robin Mellors-Bourne, Director of Research and Intelligence, Career Research and Advisory Centre in HEPI’s report on the matter. Many, if not most, employers do not know what is required to sponsor an international student and it’s just too hard to go through bureaucratic hurdles. Therefore, Brown suggests that institutions bridge that knowledge gap to tangibly better support these students and empower companies to hire international students. HEPI concludes that facilitating employment for international institutions is essential to the economy and ensuring that these international students are getting their value for their money.

Supporting Students in Action

Technology can help universities ensure the success of their international students. With Symplicity CSM, Imperial College Business School has enhanced its engagement with ongoing programming and support on wellbeing and career activities to over 2,000 diverse students.

With 15 years of experience in student success, Lisa Umenyiora, Executive Director of Careers and Student Life, Imperial College Business School spoke on the successes of engaging international students across Imperial College London. Embedding career readiness skills into eleven departments across the institution has not only benefitted international students, but the student population as a whole. Having also supported its student population from Asia and the Pacific Islands with specialist career fairs to promote its global student talent, key employers and multi-national and state-owned businesses in China have had direct access to a growing pool of graduates from their region.

More specifically, the Business School was concerned that they were not providing sufficient support to its international students, particularly as around half of its students gained employment outside of the UK. In response, the Business School developed a strategic, multi-year international career strategy. In its initial launch, the Business School focused on supporting students from China and the wider Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. This led to a series of improvements and enhancements including updating staff knowledge on region-specific recruitment processes and timelines, reaching out to overseas alumni, providing tailored support to Chinese students and providing CV checks and mock interviews in Mandarin.

Through this initial launch, Imperial College invested in an APAC-based employer relations manager and was able to recruit a London-based Mandarin-speaking careers consultant. As a result, the Business School has added 165 new employers to its network, held over 58 employer events, and helped employers promote over 1,715 job opportunities to students. From this success, Imperial College has replicated its APAC initiative with the launch of a European Hub in 2021 and a Middle East Hub by 2022.

Holistic Approach

In addition to challenges relating to career preparation, non-UK domiciled students have reported being particularly impacted throughout the pandemic with feelings of isolation and greater difficulty in integrating with others and society. Supporting students’ mental health is critical in providing an overall positive student experience – and failure do to so can significantly hinder personal and professional development and academic success.

Where possible, universities should be providing students with wraparound support when it comes to: access to funding, administrative concerns such as visas, social isolation as well as support relating to discrimination, cultural differences and academic misconduct. To ensure this, information and advice needs to be more tailored to ensure a better environment for international students that often feel more unsupported, socially isolated, and bear more financial burden than other students.

Making Good on the Promise of Support

Spend on marketing and recruitment activities for international students significantly outstrips budgets assigned to specialist support and resources available for international students. To enhance the international student experiences, institutions must focus on a holistic approach to supporting these students before, during and beyond their period of study; not only in career development and employment rights, but across mental health, wellbeing, intercultural awareness and wider engagement across the student experience. This is echoed within recommendations from the recent International Student Futures report from The UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission which highlights the role of technology in increasing student responsiveness to communications, boosting productivity of university staff, and providing dedicated officers to support international students specifically.

For those interested in learning more about how Symplicity technology solutions can enhance the international student experience – be it enhancing graduate employability with Symplicity CSM, driving excellence in student conduct management with Symplicity Advocate or unifying the student experience across student support services and beyond with Symplicity UniHub, schedule a conversation with us or email

More about our suite of products below.

Symplicity CSM, enables career services professionals to help students all within one platform. Utilizing Symplicity CSM allows career services staff to also advocate for their student’s best interests by seeing what a job’s salary is, what coursework a student is taking that best aligns with available jobs, build connections between employers that are recruiting, and find curated jobs that allow students and employers full transparency. The CSM platform, that builds the foundation to enable universities and colleges to measure and report on critical KPIs around student engagement and outcomes, streamline student and employer outreach, etc. With an enterprise-scale employability platform, universities can leverage CSM to engage students, employers, staff and administrators in the career-readiness process. At Symplicity, we believe the careers center provides critical services and fosters lasting connections with students and employers. As a result, CSM has the largest network of students and employers in the space.

For Student Conduct teams, they can rely on accurate reporting, workflows, and proactive solutions with Symplicity Advocate to ensure that incidents are properly followed up on. For this reason, accurate reporting is essential to give students the knowledge that their university is ensuring the safety of all students and is accountable. Students need to feel confident that the systems in place are there to support them throughout the process, with streamlined communication and documentation gathering, while also giving confidence to the university that should a crisis occur they are prepared. With Symplicity Advocate, wellbeing advisors and student services managers can proactively identify and support students who need help. Having all of the information in one place enables universities to help students faster and build a safer community.

Finally, Symplicity’s UniHub helps institutions create a unified student experience and streamline reporting across offices with our enterprise system for events and activity management, experiential learning, advising management, and co-curricular reflection. UniHub minimizes the number of systems used and simplifies the process of managing multiple apps and platforms across your university. The Unified Student Experience can streamline campus-wide events, appointments, experiential learning, and benchmarking activities across departments to create one unified student experience.

international, career readiness, CareerHub, Mental Health, UK, Undergraduate, United Kingdom, support, early careers, Graduate Outcomes, wellbeing, International Students

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