A grown-up approach

Mature students often have different concerns and needs from school leavers, but help exists to ensure a smooth transition. By Diana Hinds
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The Independent Online

Mature students from abroad have much to offer British universities in terms of the diversity of views and cultural experience they bring with them. Numbers of students from EU countries are rising fast, and numbers from outside the EU even faster. British universities are keen to make them as welcome as they can, from the moment they arrive in the country through to completion of their chosen courses, and many employ staff exclusively dedicated to making the lives of these international students comfortable.

Mature students from abroad have much to offer British universities in terms of the diversity of views and cultural experience they bring with them. Numbers of students from EU countries are rising fast, and numbers from outside the EU even faster. British universities are keen to make them as welcome as they can, from the moment they arrive in the country through to completion of their chosen courses, and many employ staff exclusively dedicated to making the lives of these international students comfortable.

Anna She, aged 26, came from China last year to study for an MBA at the University of Derby and found the whole process of settling in very straightforward. She was met at the airport and brought by bus to Derby, where she chose to live in a shared flat with five other women students, about 20 minutes' walk from the university.

To brush up her English, she took a language course at the university prior to starting her MBA. She was also paired with a student adviser - an older UK student - who gave her help and advice with course requirements, such as writing assignments and putting together presentations.

Universities vary in the size of their international student population. Derby has 1,000 international students, about 400 of whom are aged over 21. The largest cohorts currently are from China, Cyprus and India, including many postgraduates from India, who come over bringing their families.

The University of Sheffield, by comparison, has a vast international population of 3,215 students, including 1,890 postgraduates. China and Malaysia send the largest numbers to Sheffield, followed by Greece, Germany and India.

International students can expect some form of welcome week or induction week, often taking place before the UK students arrive, designed to show them the ropes and get them acclimatised. There will be practical help with matters such as opening a bank account, signing on with a doctor, finding accommodation, and looking for part-time work.

The hardest thing, according to Chris Wyke, can be adjusting to the cost of living: "International students tend to think they can come over with enough money for tuition fees and then get a job. Non-EU students are allowed to work 20 hours a week maximum, but we advise them to work no more than 10 because of the hours of study demanded by their courses."

Many universities also run a full immigration service and can advise on obtaining and extending visas, as well as making arrangements for a student's family to join them in this country. "We are trained to do this by the UK Council for International Education, and regulated by the Office of Immigration Services Commission," explains Karen Greenwood, international student adviser at the University of Teesside, which has 535 mature students from EU and non-EU countries.

Getting down to studying usually presents few problems, according to Chris Wyke. "It is often easier for mature students to adjust, because they know they have come here to study: they do not find it difficult to focus."

English language support is available for those who want it, often before, as well as during, a course. Derby, for instance, runs summer schools and term-time drop-in sessions, including help with study skills. Teesside provides on-going language programmes for students at no extra charge and will help spouses to sign up for language-learning at local further education colleges.

And who better to help an international student with English than their fellow native English speaking students? On the social side, universities like to encourage their students to integrate as much as possible, but often run flourishing international student societies.

At Teesside, for instance, the international society, Interlink, is the largest society within the student union. But the university also boasts The Little House, a quieter place for social gatherings, which is much frequented by international mature students.

Don't worry that most of the other students at your university or college will be young school leavers. The UK has vast numbers of mature students of their own so you will never be out of place.

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