International or foreign students form significant percentages of student populations in most universities around the world. Most universities enrol international students for basically two reasons. One reason is that universities will be improving their status taking into account how prestigious internationalisation of education is regarded in academia, especially in the rankings of universities. Among other factors, universities are often judged by offering programmes that attract foreign students. Also, the financial benefits that come with the enrolment of international students tend to urge universities to increase their intakes of foreign students from year to year. In some countries, the inflow of the much needed foreign currency in the economy is a significant driver in allowing foreign students to register with local universities. If it is well organised, the internationalisation of education can bring billions of dollars to the host country. For instance, China alone pays one billion US dollars annually for teaching its students, trainees, and graduate students abroad. As a whole, according to the US Department of Commerce, expenditures of international students enrolled in all 50 states contributed more than US$30 billion to the US economy in 2014. These impressive figures were taken from the works of Gelbras (2002) and Opendoors (2015). Currently, China tops the statistics as a sending country, with India coming second, but India is projected to take the lead from China by 2025.
While the internationalisation of education is highly regarded in academia, what is often not given due attention by universities’ authorities and governments are the many challenges that international students face. Overwhelming evidence from literature and my experience show that while some host countries offer different forms of work permits to international students to supplement their finances while they are studying in universities away from home, some countries impose stringent measures that deny international students chances of getting part-time employment. Immigration laws and policies in some countries in Southern Africa and other parts of the world criminalise international students who might be lucky to find part-time employment in companies, restaurants and education institutions. The consequences of these harsh laws and policies are far reaching for international students who might be genuinely trying to earn an honest living and supplementing their usually meagre financial resources they receive from their parents or guardians or home governments. Some international students end up living in squalid conditions where there are no facilities and amenities to support the success of their studies because they cannot afford the ever rising monthly rentals charged in decent suburban areas. Some of the poor areas in which the students are forced to live promote illicit activities like the use of substances. Once hooked to this kind of life, some students forget about lectures and become part of the gangs that deal in illicit substances, much to their disadvantage.
Related to this, some female students end up co-habiting with male students in order to cut costs. Other female students become easy prey for sugar daddies who take advantage of their desperate situations.
The consequences are disastrous. We have witnessed some international students failing to finish their study programmes in the stipulated periods of study mainly because of serious factors which include the failure to secure decent accommodation that is conducive to the rigours of academic work. As I see it, many of these bad things that befall international students can be prevented by making it legal for the students to work for minimum hours per week in their host countries.
In other words, I am suggesting that international students must have short-term work permits endorsed in their study permits so that they can legally look for some kind of work to do as long as that will not negatively affect their studies.
Countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United State of America, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Korea, New Zealand, Japan, France, Greece, and Iceland offer international students work permits that allow them to work between eight hours per week and 28 hours per week depending on each of these countries’ specifications. Most of these countries go a step further to offer post-graduation work permits to international students graduating from their higher education institutions.
In the psychosocial sphere, international students come face to face with challenges related to acculturation, the process of learning and incorporating the values, beliefs, customs and mannerisms of citizens of the host country. The fact that different groups of individuals from different countries with different languages and cultures come into contact naturally presents a variety of problems that may hinder the learning and teaching process.
International students usually suffer cultural shock in their first early weeks or months in a foreign university in a foreign country. In this case, international students have to go through a cross-cultural adaptation which may take weeks and months for students to adapt to the new cultural and academic environment. In this regard, universities mount a variety of psycho-social services that promote the cultural adaptation and integration of international students into the new environment.
Seminars and courses on different aspects of acculturation can be mounted for host country students and international students for them to discuss possible ways of finding each other in a multicultural educational environment. In addition to organised activities, international students are encouraged to devise their own coping mechanisms as long as those strategies are not used to despise and look down upon other people’s cultural practices.
In short, host countries need to adjust their immigration laws and policies to allow international students to work for limited hours per week in order for them to support themselves. Equally, host universities must vigorously work on international students’ full acculturation and adaptation to the new educational environment.