‘I’m treated like a money bank’: How lockdown is disadvantaging international students

We spoke to international students about their difficult experiences

Rachel Nielson is an international student studying at Sussex University. She feels massively let down by how the university has treated her and her international peers due to the lack of recognition of how difficult lockdown is for them compared to domestic students.

Rachel sent an open letter to the university laying out all the reasons their situation is unique and should be treated as so, for example, time difference, flight expenses. She asked that the uni show more sensitivity towards the extra financial and emotional cost this current situation has on them and requested for the reimbursement of tuition fees.

The university were unable to meet Rachel’s request and could only apologise for how Rachel and her peers felt. Rachel is dissatisfied by this and feels the disadvantage international students’ are under right now needs to be recognised.

Rachel told The Tab she is “fighting in this campaign to represent the voices of my international peers who have been struggling with this issue”. She gathered a few of their experiences.

“It’s not that easy for us to drop a couple thousand pounds to get home”

Rachel is a BA Drama & Film Studies student, her home country is Indonesia. Rachel feels there’s a harmful stereotype that all international students have money to spare and that having to pick up everything and move back home was an easy decision.

“I think there’s a stereotype that international students are all boujee, but the reality for most of us is that our parents have sacrificed so much to give us an opportunity to study abroad. It hasn’t been easy for some of us to just drop a couple thousand pounds to fly home to our families. Not to mention, the university boasts about its diversity yet I feel like I’m treated like a money bank.

“It’s also really difficult for some international students who don’t have their own laptops. The university has extended the recall date to the end of term but they haven’t recognised this isn’t feasible for students living outside the UK – we can’t just drive down to drop it off, nor can we afford a return flight.”

Rachel studying at home

“The delay in decision making held me back from flying home straightaway”

A student studying under the Informatics Department also feels let down by how the uni has handled her circumstances. She is currently in a government dedicated hotel for 14 days before she can officially go home and said the uni took too long and messed around too much with decisions surrounding lockdown, without considering how time-sensitive things were for international students.

“The uni took incredibly long to come to a decision on its safety net policy and that was only because there was a petition to push for it, and even now, some departments haven’t settled on the way they want to set the assessments and how it should be counted and weighed in percentage. There are so many students still unsure.

“As a final year student I’m concerned about my grades and this wasn’t addressed until very late. This delay in decision making was one of the things holding me back from flying home straightaway.”

“The time differences make it almost impossible for me to catch up with the live classes”

Safira Nuranisa is an international Relations and Development student who’s moved back to her hometown in Indonesia. Safira’s experience of moving back home has been an emotional and financial burden. She’s also found there’s been little consideration for the time difference issues affecting some international students.

“Deciding to fly back home was a heavy and difficult choice for me. I personally wouldn’t have but my circumstances forced me to in the end. It was so hard to find flights home in such a short period of time – I had to buy four flight tickets in the end. Not to mention the financial distress this has caused me on top of the final instalment for tuition and accommodation fees being taken. Financially it’s been so tough.

“Emotionally it was also really difficult – I had to settle on whether I was going to pack all my stuff and never come back or store them somewhere if I wanted to do a Masters. I also had to take into consideration the timezone difference (eight hours) of my country, if I fly back home to continue the online studying.

“Class and academic wise – it’s been so shit. The time differences make it almost impossible for me to catch up with the live classes on Zoom and Canvas Conference, and the tutors still expect us to submit class works. It’s really hard to keep up with the online classes with such limited sources and high standard assignments. Even though some may have been reduced or extended, I personally think it is still not enough.

“To be honest, I don’t even bother with the online classes anymore and just focus on the final assignments graded for the semester. Knowing that attendance won’t be taken is a relief but it’s still far than what I think international students need right now”.

Safira in her room at home

“I receive poor treatment from domestic students for speaking up”

One student, who wishes to remain anonymous because she’s the only international student on her course, told us she’s mistreated by the University, but also by other students. She explained that she doesn’t feel the university is being fair on international students but is afraid to speak up because it causes a divide between her and her domestic peers.

“I not only receive poor treatment from the university but also from domestic students. Some domestic students have made me feel bad for being open about how the strike has affected my studies, and my view that in some ways the situation is more difficult for us than it is for them.”

University of Sussex’s response

“The University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students, Kelly Coate did write to a group of international students who expressed their concerns.   In the email Kelly confirmed that although the mode of teaching delivery moved online, our lecturers and tutors have been working so hard to ensure that our students learning outcomes are fulfilled.  As such, the normal tuition fee arrangements still apply.  The UK Government has also confirmed this position with all students.

“You may remember we took the decision to move to online teaching before the lockdown measures were introduced in the UK, because we felt this was the right thing to do for our students.  We will always put our students wellbeing first. Please be assured that we do recognise the issues that all students are facing in this time of unprecedented disruption. We have endeavoured to ensure that all students know the University is there for them, and that our extensive range of academic and wellbeing support is available to all.

“We also wrote to international students to make sure that if they are experiencing barriers to accessing online learning due to technical or software issues they should contact IT Services Department whose technicians can provide support, advice and guidance. For students who have issues due to time differences, or accessing online learning technology that may not be available in their home country, they should raise a case with the IT Services Department and contact their School Office to make them aware.

“The University is doing everything it can to support all students, and we recognise that not all students are the same. That is why our trained advisors at International Student Support are available to help all international students with any issues, and of course the full range of student support services and School offices are also here to help.”

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