by Lina Boe
‘International students’, ’integration’ and ‘diversity’ are words receiving increased focus at Durham University.
Last November Justin Villamil wrote about international representation in Palatinate. He concluded that international students need this because they face additional challenges; with social norms, language, practicalities, and lack of common ground when meeting home students.
The most important reason why international students need representation has little to do with their potential difficulties. Having all voices heard benefits the whole student body. Views and opinions from all around the world are incredibly valuable and essential for the development of top world university.
Diversity is healthy not only for the student body as a whole. On a personal level all students will profit from being introduced to different perspectives. New input widens our minds and teaches us things we never before thought twice about. If we are at university to learn and prepare for the world, what better way is there of achieving this than embracing diversity?
If young and curious students are incapable of this, chances are no one is. Having our beliefs and traditions challenged make us grow as people. One of my lectures described this very elegantly; ‘tradition is beautiful, but the world changes’.
A world challenge
These changes are not specific to British universities. An increasingly diverse student body, and discussion regarding it, is a topic everywhere. In my country education is free for students from home and abroad, but the government is considering creating tuition fees for non-EU students. The idea is to ‘raise the quality of the education’; to single out the most dedicated students.
The National Student Organization (NSO) disagrees and states that ‘international students are crucial not only for the quality of the education, but also its prestige and reputation’. Fewer international students mean less international influence for all home students that never go abroad. The whole student body will overall be weakened with the lack of international experience and competence.
The bigger picture
Increasing diversity is a challenge for the globalized world we live in. It is demanding, it requires respect and compromise. From Day 1 Durham has told us that education is more than academia. It is about getting to know people, the world, ourselves. As children we learn about right and wrong. Later we learn how there is not always a right and wrong, just different.
Lately there has been a campaign by the Students’ Union to ‘fix international fees’. This is not only about the money. It has to do with treating students from abroad with respect, but most importantly; it focuses on equality. That Durham University treats their students unjustly is one thing, it is another completely when it only regards non-English nationalities. High quality education has its cost. Most people from abroad in Britain would have receive a cheaper, or even a free education at home. These are the same people that realize how there is no price for perspective.
Dare to be diverse!
Durham can be better at embracing diversity as a resource. I think we can start seeing the whole student body as one, and not international students as a separate community. The university needs its international students just as much as they need it.
Even if challenges with diversity and integration belong to a bigger picture, we can work on it on our level. Keeping an open mind is a great start – for what a waste it would be; education, for a mind that is not open to learning and reflection!
Photograph by Wikipedia, from Ohio Wesleyan University.