• douglittle

Top Tips - Supporting international students online during COVID-19

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

The UK higher education sector has responded proactively to continue to support and teach their students while ensuring their safety and wellbeing during this COVID-19 outbreak.

This has often meant that tuition and support services have migrated online.

However, this transition has often failed to reflect the global student environment we find ourselves. Your classroom isn’t just based in your local lecture hall but will have students accessing your services across the globe simultaneously. You could have students based in the UK but also China, Malaysia, India, Iceland, Canada and every other country.

Below are a select few reflections I’ve had, drawn on the learning I’ve gained from the International Student Mental Health project.

  1. Remember global time differences in your global classroom.

  2. Think about your reading lists on a virtual library.

  3. Use the right social media platform.

  4. Take your buddy schemes online.

  5. Don't forget those that have stayed.

  6. Read more below

1. Times a funny thing - consider time differences

Universities have proactively migrated to offering tuition and support online but remember when you’re hosting any live lectures or seminars that we’re now in an environment where your class are sitting across the globe.

Consider that, Japan is 9 hours ahead of British Summer Time (BST). A student signing in from San Francisco is working 7 hours behind BST.

It’s not as simple as hosting sessions based around nationalities as a lot of countries have multiple time zones - Russia has nine time zones, the USA has six (can’t forget Alaska or Hawaii).


  • Offer different timeslots of any live session, allowing multiple chances to join in. Perhaps one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

  • Record sessions so that those that can’t join in can participate through the recorded session instead.

  • Encourage the use of online forums, comments and chats so that discussions, questions and answers are recorded for everyone to see.

  • Add onto your email signature a note that you’re conscious of time differences in our new routine of global working. This note shows your sensitive to the global environment.

  • Try to protect specific time for you to answer student enquiries via email – this may be their only point of contact.

2. Virtual Library - Review Reading Lists

Libraries across the higher education sector have worked hard to continue to support students remotely. More and more journals and books are being offered online or in electronic formats. However, it’s worthwhile for academics to review their listed reading to ensure that there’s a reasonable chance that these are available to all students remotely. It could be that a core reference text is unavailable electronically, but that there are more up-to-date relevant articles that are readily available. Consider that there may be licencing or technical issues accessing material outside the UK.

This review could prove a valuable opportunity to reflect and update reading lists and could leverage our current affairs.

I’d recommend contacting your library colleagues. They are experts in navigating access to learning resources.

3. #Global - Consider your Social Media use globally

Using social media to stay in touch has been a crucial connection for a lot of people. It’s allowed us to interact and stay informed. However, social media platforms and preferences differ globally.

Facebook remains hugely popular in the UK but is not available in mainland China where WeChat and Weibo are the most popular platforms.

When Student’s Unions and societies are setting up shared virtual spaces for their students, it’s worthwhile reflecting on who can access these. For example, setting up a Facebook group for Chinese students who have returned home is not useful.

4. Speak to me! - Migrate mentoring and buddy schemes online

Many universities have established successful mentoring or buddy schemes which seek to pair international students with other students, that will help induct them to their university and how the UK works. It also allows them to develop critical social contact at the early stages of their university life.

Many international students returning to their home countries are losing the opportunity to interact with UK students, which is often a key reason why they chose to study in the UK. Many international students are eager to make friends with British students, learn about our culture and improve their language skills. There are real concerns that their early return has undermined that.

I would encourage that the sector proactively migrates these schemes online. It doesn’t even have to be super high tech – it could be a chance to set up an old fashioned as a pen pal scheme.

5. Don’t Forget Me – Support for those that have stayed

Students have been proactively encouraged to return to their permanent homes, and many have gone back to their families and loved ones. However, for many international students, this is not possible, or they’ve chosen to stay in their UK accommodation.

These students may be finding themselves increasingly isolated as the University campus becomes more and more empty. They have had to watch as their friends pack up and move out. Their only contact with their family may be limited and sometimes challenging.

The sector cannot forget these students and should proactively seek to reach out to these students and offer support reflecting on their needs and isolation.

For example, the University of Nottingham SU’s International Student Network has set up a dedicated online group called “Home From Home” to connect those international students that have remained in Nottingham.


About the Project:

The International Student Mental Health (ISMH) project aims to learn what works effectively in terms of supporting international student mental health and wellbeing in the UK higher education sector.

The project is led by the University of Nottingham, in partnership with University of Nottingham Students Union, University of Leeds, Leeds University Union, SOAS, SOAS Students Union, Campus Life Ltd, Student Minds. The Office for Students funds the project as part of their Mental Health Challenge Competition.

If you would like to learn more about the project and get involved, please contact me via

The International Student Mental Health project is funded as part of the Office for Students Mental Health Challenge Competition.

Photo Credits:

Header: Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

Photo 1: Photo by Farzad Mohsenvand on Unsplash

Photo 2: Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Photo 3: Photo by Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash

Photo 4: Photo by Jenna Jacobs on Unsplash

Photo 5: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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