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Banning National societies in universities to create greater student intergration

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Today (4TH April) Sheffield University professor Paul White has stated that “British Universities should ban country-specific student societies to encourage foreign student integration at universities” to the Westminster Higher Education Forum conference on internationalisation in London. Although he admits it as being “social engineering”,  the pro-vice chancellor for learning and teaching said these societies create  “close communities of students who don’t interact with each other”, citing that Chinese, Indian and British students all tend to stick with their national groups, as examples.

The statement comes with evidence from the Faculty of Sheffield University-city College, in Thessaloniki Greece, where it banned national student societies, to increase integration of Serbs, Kosovans and Macedonians.

Integration of foreign students is a challenge of all Universities not just in Britain and Greece, and White is right in noting the importance of integration. Henderson et al (2011) article overviews many research conducted on International student integration. The article confirms that those who had more contact with host nationals reported higher levels of satisfaction, less homesickness, and less loneliness in their study abroad experience. However, the article also emphasises the importance of country specific societies. They enable co-national friendships at a time when many may be experiencing culture shock-being placed in completely new surroundings and customs. These groups’ facilitate discussions and intellectual exchange with other co-national students experiencing the same emotions, serving to attenuate the stress often associated with culture shock.

In line with Smith, the piece confirms co-national friendships offer short-term support but hinder the long-term adaptation process. But instead of looking to remove supportive medium instrumental to the beginning of foreign students’ duration, we should see why often integration isn’t facilitated in conjunction with national societies. Firstly, many International students have poor grasp of the host nation language, which poses a challenge in making host nation friendships. Second, many students report discrimination or prejudges against their nationality/ethnicity. Third, international students are entering an environment where friendships have already established, meaning reduced openness of host nationals compared to co nationals to make connections.

Removing national societies may induced greater integration, but won’t resolve these underlying issues. By resolving these however, universities will develop integration while also providing the supportive network of national societies needed. Furthermore, while immersing one’s self into another culture may be a key aspect to study aboard, this is not the motivation of all students: Some students decisions are informed purely on extending their knowledge base,  far from wanting to experience a different culture, simply that a foreign university holds a greater opportunity to respective domestic others . In this context, a strong national society may even be a pull factor of Universities in attracting important foreign students.

Housing directors should mix international students with host nationals. This will increase the opportunity to develop friendship. But also as the article states, it removes stereotype assumptions of individuals and develops deeper understanding, so will reduce prejudice.  Developing ways for universities to increase English skills of students is key, while  also encouraging faculty staff to facilitate integration during study and group work. White stated he is “throwing the idea out there”, and in doing so has raised a serious issue within universities. Removing national societies worked in Greece, where identify tensions are higher. In Britain impetus should focus on other ways in conjunction with societies.  Universities are best not catching this one.


Read-Henderson et al. 2011. An analysis of friendship networks, social connectedness, homesickness,  and satisfaction levels of international students. International Journal of International Relations, 35 (3), pp. 281-295.


The Carboard Bicycle? Not another eco fad but game changer in developing world mobility.

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Isralie Inventor, Izhar Gafni has designed a bicycle made almost entirely of cardboard. The material is pressed from wood pulp and treated with the inventors secrete mixture to give it waterproof and fireproof qualities, and finally lacquered with paint to give an appealing appearance. The material is ideal, and the whole bike weights just under 10kg (to put into perspective London ‘Boris bike’ weigh 23kg).

Still in development, when completed it will contain no metal parts, with the brakes, wheel and pedal bearings being made of recycled substances. Coupled with puncture proof tyres from reconstituted rubber from old car tyres, it is low maintenance and long lasting.  When Izhar’s creation reaches mass production, the cost of materials per bicycle is estimated at $9, meaning it should cost no more that $20 (£12.50). Furthermore, as its material is readily available globally,  so Izhar’s visions local factories where ever there is demand. Furthermore, the company could receive tax rebates from green materials, to cancel out production costs, and allow bicycles to be given away for free in poor countries.

While the cardboard bicycle will not be a favorite for Tour de France, Its cost, durability and manufacturing locale means it has exciting potential application in developing countries. Bicycles are abundant in developing world,  mainly through re-cycle charity schemes of used bicycles, but many of them are cheap and unreliable, while experience and shops for maintenance are few and far. In Urban cities this is less of a problem, but for members of rural communities, bicycles are not frequently used due to lack of knowledge and access to tools. However, a daily constraint to rural members is the struggle to transport produce to markets, where paved roads and powered transport is sparse. Increasing mobility to these communities, even the small gains a bicycle makes, would have huge economic impacts on households. Porter et al (2012) studied the use of the Intermediate transport in Rural Ghana villages, including standard bicycles. They note that bicycles were soon abandoned after they failed to work (e.g. a puncture or buckled wheel).  The cardboard bicycles low maintenance and strength will at least partly negate such constraints in rural villages.

However in response to these findings, the study provided maintenance workshops and tool-kits for each village, and soon emerged that it is not simply Knowledge that is required, but an understanding of budgeting for maintenance of the bicycles. The cardboard bicycle through, so cheap, that when it is broken, Izhar say “you can take it back to the factory, recycle it, and replaced for a small sum”.

To many (me at first included) this bicycle may seem to be a novelty, or an eco cyclists dream come true. But if a model is generated where local  factories source  rural communities with bicycles  and the right support, it can proved a cost effective way to increase individual’s mobility, which would have dramatic effects of agricultural sales.


Read: Porter et al. 2012. Gendered patterns of IMT adoption and use: Learning from action research. Research in Transport Economics, 34(1), pg. 11-15.

Will visa reform facilitate English proficient international students or just act as a deterrent

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This week, David Cameron has publically urged Indian Students to come and Study in the UK, ahead of his visit to New Delhi and Mumbai. India is the largest supplier of foreign students to UK higher education institution (HEI’s). (BBC 2012)800px-David_Cameronspeaking2

This comes as rebut to the recently released statistics showing that the number of Indian students to UK has dropped for the first time this year.  BBC reports that some businesses and Universities believe this is a result of the tighter requirements for student visa, and rules for post study in the UK put in place by the coalition government in April last year. With international students included in the target to decrease net migration, Visa applications have been reformed into 5 tier levels, students falling under tier 4.

Now, under tier 4, according to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) website, applicants who do not have English as their first language must ‘demonstrate they have a certain level of English ability’. Notably this can be meet by coming from a majority English speaking country, having an academic qualification partly taught in English, or having proficient qualifications in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. This has struck a chord with many prospectus students, leaving a sense of not being welcome to UK studying environments.

N. T. Ramachandran (2012) points out in The Journal of Research in International Education, while it is important of UK HEI’s to attract bright students from outside its borders, international students often find that their English language skills are not adequate to allow them to cope in a typical English-speaking environment when they arrive in the UK. However, inadequacies are often far from a lack of qualifications and criteria, which this new tier system demands. Conversely, Ramachandran states many students find the pace and terminologies used in academic fields unfamiliar with their teachings and confidence becomes shattered when their earlier training fails to help them. Furthermore, short courses in English have little help in group activity, with dialect influencing students’ pronunciation of English.  To an international student, the Home Counties English accent is very different to the regional, Scottish, Irish and Welsh variants.

In this respect, while the new tier system may repel bogus applicants, in terms of ensuring that UK university international students accepted are those who can competently thrive in an English Language environment, the jury is still out.  And for many that potentially can thrive are now questioning whether Britain will welcome them with open arms.

Ramachandran also highlights ways in which universities can develop language proficiency and understanding in students; providing them with a glossary of English academic terms would be a beginning. Sessions on English for academic purposes, participation in events to promote the use of English language skills, facilitating speaking and listening participation, and encouraging time with academic staff and support  staff in the university who come from their homeland . Furthermore having a specific office in universities for language learning would create a supportive environment to lean on.

By implementing these initiatives, not only will genuine students gain the most value out of their time spent in UK universities, but to a global audience it will showcase the inviting nature of our universities. Something some feel they have yet to see.15%_of_Westminster_student_body_is_international_students,_representing_71_different_countries

Migrant Remittances and the need for efficient transfer systems to facilitate poverty alleviation: Bluekite, Florida.

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This week, Florida based cross-border payment service Blukite finalized a $1.5 million funding from private investors (Miami herald).  This will be used to develop its electronic software model, which allows migrants to pay bills on behalf of their relatives who remained in their country of origin. The model is currently operational in Florida, where it already offers cross-border bill payment services to countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Migrants can directly pay electricity, gas, water, Internet, cable, fixed & mobile phone, and financial services. The system is operated through third party agents, notably western Union stores.

Promoting the service has been put in the hands of store owners, and while in the beginning migrants were sceptical of the service, through word of mouth it is gaining recognition in the Florida migrant communities. But with Western Union, (a global brand with stores on every continent), the recent funding goal is to have BlueKite operational in 400 stores in Florida by the first quarter, with expansion into five more states and Europe (firstly Spain) by the second quarter.

In 2010 remittances were estimated to be valued at $300 billion, close to the global Foreign Direct Investment, and larger than Official Development Assistance.  With these figures rising, understanding the impacts that remittances play in poverty alleviation, and ways to facilitate efficient transfers are more salient than ever. Michele Binci (2012) in ‘the benefits of Migration’ concurs that remittances are a powerful tool for the families receiving them to pay for needed expenditure. However from a study in Vietnam, between 1991 and 1999 she notes that while international remittances are larger in terms to capital, they are less effective than intra-country remittances. This is because the cross boundary migrant has very little control over the spending by the family, whereas intra-boundary migrants can implement strict control over what bills, schooling, and heath care expenditure occurs. With this in mind, BlueKite offers the potential for cross border control over remittance expenditure. Instead of sending back remittances wholly, individual bills can be paid directly, and thus giving a tighter leash on remittance expenditure.

The reason why such tighter control over family spending has been difficult is the majority of remittances receiving  families are under-banked, that is do not have the means for creating bank transfers,  while migrants who work illegally will struggle to open a bank in their host country.  BlueKite’s vision of global expansion offers an exciting change in the habits of remittance flows. In a climate where remittances have outstripped ODA, increasing control and efficiency of these flows has the potential for economic change in the receiving nations. But relying on private funded ventures to drive this change would be nonsensical of Governments and International organisations alike.  We need to start taking remittance flow innovation seriously as the key to facilitating poverty, alleviation where aid and investment has failed.





Read: Binci, Michele. 2012. ‘The Benefits of Migration’. Economic Affairs, 32 (1), PP. 4-9.