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Why International Student Mental Health?

Updated: Oct 22, 2020


One of the questions I often get asked is *why* the project is looking specifically at international student mental health support.


This post is dedicated to answering this!

  1. The UK is one of the most popular destinations for international students.

  2. International students are targets of racism, prejudice and discrimination.

  3. International student’s tuition fees are higher than home/UK fees.

  4. Mental health and illness are global.

  5. International Students face complex and often unique challenges inherent in studying away from their home nation.

Keep scrolling to read more! Questions or want to know more about the project? Contact me!


1. The UK - That Popular Kid


The UK has proved historically to be an attractive location to study with significant numbers coming to study at our universities. Globally we’re only 2nd to the USA as the destination of choice for international students.


In 2017/18, Universities UK reported that international students make up around 20% of the whole UK student population. In terms of postgraduate students, they constitute just over a third of the national student body!


It’s crucial that as a significant proportion of the student body that as a sector, we ensure we’re equipped to offer them the best support, teaching and overall experience we can.

That demands a project like ours needs to consider what universities are doing.


2. Targets of Hate

It’s sad to say that there are clear indications that hate crime is on the rise.

International students can be targets for abuse, hate and discrimination. They often lack the tools and knowledge to navigate the UK legal system and facing barriers when they do. Universities have established their reporting systems for harassment and abuse. The OfS is working to improve sector-wide practice and policy for this.


Also, the campuses, often viewed as a haven for international students, can be the very arena that these students face this discrimination and abuse.


It is also clear that hate crime, such as racism, islamophobia, and homophobia, can have a profoundly negative impact on an individual’s mental health.


International students, therefore, need specific attention.


3. Money Money Money

Studying abroad is not a cheap endeavour, and while the relative weakness of the pound has softened the financial impact for many, it remains that international students often pay far more to study in the UK than UK and EU citizens do (EU did).


In 2014, Universities UK International published research that found that international students paid a whooping £4.8 billion in tuition fees alone. They make up about 14% of the HE sector’s income alone before you consider non-tuition income from accommodation and campus-based services.


Many Universities, in the face of anticipated fall in international student numbers, and therefore income, are having to find significant savings.


When we consider the substantial financial contribution that international students make to University budgets, and the economy, reflecting on how to best support their mental health needs makes some sense.


4. Global Mental Health

Everyone has mental health, similarly as everyone has physical health. While UK society has come some way to becoming more comfortable talking about mental health and mental illness, we are behind other nations and ahead of others. Mental illness, including depression, is not confined.


We have a responsibility to learn from other cultural definitions of mental health and mental illness while in recognition that it does exist, that interventions can be made and people can join the road to recovery.


This project is key to learning from international students, and the sector, about bringing about a greater trans-national understanding of mental health and wellbeing that embraces the diversity of other cultures.


5. Challenges to International Student Experience

These students often have to embrace a different language to their own, use a different currency, understand different terms of measurements (the UK is metric…apart from our beer, our roads…etc…), different food, different weather (which we don’t stop talking about!).


The UK has a unique culture, and even though it’s a relatively small country has a complex array of nuances across nations and counties.


Learning about our general norms and expectations is often incredibly challenging and distressing for many students. They also often have to face these challenges feeling increasingly isolated and alone.


Having welcomed international students to our institutions we have a responsibility to ensure that they are equipped in the best possible way to see through these challenges themselves, and if not – where they can go to get that extra help.

Working in Partnership


The project is nation-wide, and we're making a real effort to engage with everyone interested in international student mental health, including universities, mental health services, students unions, sector bodies, charities and organisations such a private student accommodation.

The project is led by the University of Nottingham, in partnership with the University of Nottingham Students' Union, University of Leeds, Leeds University Union, SOAS, SOAS Students' Union, Student Minds and Campuslife Ltd.





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



Photo Credits

Header Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

UK on a Globe Photo by Calvin Hanson on Unsplash

Racism is a Pandemic Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Money Money Money is Photo by Ethan McArthur on Unsplash

Hands with Globe Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Person chewing pencil Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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