International students in Wales are “destitute and relying on food banks”

Back in July, Jayne Bryant MS, the chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee in the Senedd, sent a letter to Universities Wales.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

In it she set out a series of concerns surrounding the support that is available from universities to international students.

The committee’s inquiry into mental health support in higher education resulted in a recommendation on a “base level of provision” for international students, but the letter also raised a bunch of other issues.

These included the disconnection between the promises made to some students prior to them moving to Wales and the reality of what is available on arrival, struggles in finding affordable and suitable accommodation, and destitution and reliance on food banks and other voluntary support.

Bryant called on universities in Wales to do more to ensure that all international students thinking of studying in Wales know what support they can expect from an institution, and the financial implications of their studies.

Now Amanda Wilkinson, the Director of Universities Wales has responded – and said response is really quite odd.

After some warm but vague words on support being clearly signposted and services reflecting the full diversity of the international student community, Wilkinson first addresses the living costs issue:

Regarding living costs, international students are required to have a certain level of funding for themselves and for their families, as part of the requirements for a Tier 4 Visa. Although some there are different evidence requirements in place for some countries (such as the US or countries in the EU), most international students need to evidence that they can pay for their course for one academic year and that they have access to £1,023 per month for courses outside of London. Each dependant also requires a further £680 per month. This is made very clear in the visa and application processes.

The implication of the above is similar to the argument I’ve heard used when students are advocating for international student hardship funds. “Can’t, not allowed, it’s the rules”, etc.

The problem is that that’s not the rules. UUK’s own guidance to universities notes that international students are unlikely to have access to public funds due to their visa status – and then warns that students may assume this includes university support. It doesn’t.

The UK’s immigration rules clearly state what is defined as public funds, and educational or hardship funding do not appear on this list. UUK says:

As such, institutional hardship support is not counted under public funds, hence international students are eligible for it.

Universities both can and many do offer financial support to international students – partly because those home office figures go nowhere near covering most international students’ costs in the UK, and partly because of the atrociously poor cost of living information on most universities’ websites gives those students little idea of the amount of money they’ll actually need when here.

It would have been nice to imagine that Universities Wales might take steps to address that, and talk about their hardship schemes – but apparently not.

The letter even continues:

Universities take their duties in relation to Tier 4 requirements very seriously both for the benefit of students and to ensure institutions can continue to offer international students the opportunity to study in Wales. UUK has recently published guidance on best practice in this area.

Given the committee’s concerns about recruitment practices, we might have imagined that the URL in that section would link across to UUK’s report on the diversification and strengthening of international recruitment practices – including work on reviewing deposit requirements, using pre-CAS interviews, practices in relation to dependants and working with agents, sub-agents and agent aggregators.

But it doesn’t. It links to this guidance on supporting good practice in student accommodation – which isn’t mentioned at all in the letter, despite it being a major concern of the committee.

That said, we do learn that Universities Wales’ International Network has committed to agreeing a vague-sounding set of principles for international recruitment, “including the expectations on signposting, engagement with local partners and provision of advice and guidance.”

Please let me know if you require any further information.

If I was on the committee, I’d be writing back.

2 responses to “International students in Wales are “destitute and relying on food banks”

  1. “those home office figures go nowhere near covering most international students’ costs in the UK”

    So the obvious solution would be for those home office figures to be updated to reflect the actual costs.

  2. It’s an open secret that Universities Wales are no longer fit for purpose; good to see their shortcomings being highlighted here. They’re great at representing the views of Welsh Government to the HE sector, but utterly useless at representing the sector to Welsh Government. A cynic might suggest that they have become too dependent on WG funding for pet projects to be able to carry out their core purpose.

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