Creating a ‘sense of belonging’ for international students through intercultural Personal Tutoring

The Personal Tutoring for International Students SIG aims to create a professional network of personal tutors working to understand the issues, concerns and challenges of working with overseas students. Furthermore, this network seeks to disseminate best practice related to supporting international students studying in higher education institutions.  It aims to stimulate critical dialogue by connecting academics from different higher education institutions and disciplines who support international students. For the purposes of this blog it is worthwhile clarifying the term ‘international student defined as an individual whose primary purpose of relocation is to pursue study in a foreign country which is often in a new academic context (Jones, 2017).

The UK has a reputation for high quality education that has steered this country to being one of the most popular destination for international students, and has been predicted to increase with the fourth wave of international students (Choudaha, 2021). As such the UK academy more diverse than ever before with. the Higher Education Statistics Agency (2021) reporting that 1 in 4 higher education students were international students in 2018-19. In terms of geographical breakdown: 18% were from China, 13% EU, 6% other Asia, 4% North America and 4 % India (HESA, 2021).

Since the beginning of the millennium there has been a growing impetus to enhance the international student learning experience in higher education, with a proliferation of teaching practices being published in relation to supporting international students e.g. Bamford (2008), Smailes and Gannon-Leary (2008) and Warwick (2008). However, the role of personal tutoring and pastoral care in the student experience has been somewhat underexplored in the literature.

However, recent a study has shown some interesting insights into international students perceptions of the Student Experience. The study showed that whilst international students tended to rate their overall satisfaction as high on questionnaires, deeper analysis reflected a lack of socialisation into the wider academic context, resulting in a significantly lower ‘sense of belonging’ (Arkoudis et al., 2019). To this end, it is significant that international students concerns are not ignored, because this could have potentially severe consequences on recruitment, retention and reputation (Carroll and Ryan: 2005).  Furthermore, internationals are future ambassadors who will hopefully purvey the tangible and intangible benefits of their chosen education institution, as well as promoting international relations.

To address such challenges, Arenas (2009) advocates for enhanced international classrooms- which we extend to include personal tutoring, can be facilitated through developing an intercultural attitude to teaching international students and implementing a democratic and innovatory style to teaching .  This approach to teaching and learning will have a  number of desired effects; the most obvious being that such practices promote widening participation, as it is likely that UK students experience the same obstacles (Shiel: 2008).  Carroll and Ryan (2005) further explore tutors adapting to a intercultural andragogy using a ‘coalmine canary’ analogy, whereby miners knew that if a canary which had been taken down a coalmine, died, then their health was at risk.  Similarly, if international students are having difficulties, then other students will possibly experience the same.  Thus by improving conditions for international learners, everyone will reap the benefits. 

Louisa Hill and Maria Hussain, University of Leeds


Arenas, E. (2009) How teachers’ attitudes affect their approaches to teaching international students. Higher Education Research and Development. 28(6). 615-628.

Arkoudis, S., Dollinger, M., Baik, C. et al. (2019) International students’ experience in Australian higher education: can we do better?. High Educ 77, 799–813 (2019).

Bamford, J. (2008) Strategies for the Improvement for International Students’ Academic and Cultural Experiences of Studying in the UK. York: Higher Education Academy. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 31st January 2011].

Carroll, J. and Ryan, J. (eds.) (2005) Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All.  Birmingham: Staff and Education Development Association.

Choudaha, R. (2021). [last accessed, 2nd February, 2021]

Montgomery (2010). [last accessed 2nd February, 2021]

HESA (2021) [last accessed 2nd February, 2021]   

Elspeth, J. (2017) Problematising and reimagining the notion of ‘international student experience’, Studies in Higher Education, 42:5, 933-943, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2017.1293880

Shiel, C. (2008) Introduction. York: Higher Education Academy. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 29th December 2010].

Shipman, M. (ed.) Educational Research: Principles, Policies and Practices. London: Routledge.

Smailes, J. and Gannon-Leary, P. (2008) Have we got it right? A case study on international student views of inclusive teaching and learning at Northumbria. International Journal of Management Education. 7 (1). 51-60.

Warwick, P. (2007) Well-meant but misguided, an attempt to support overseas management students in the UK. International Journal of Management Education. 6 (2). 3-17.

comments powered by Disqus