Living and Learning in London in 2023, a new report from the UK capital’s higher education association London Higher, outlines how both international and domestic students see life as a learner in the city. 

Findings from the report also showcase how those graduating in the city greatly value its post-graduation employment prospects. The document says London students do an average of 6.41 hours of internships and placements. The English average is only 5.57. 

“These numbers indicate that London students are more likely to choose courses associated with placements and internships, and paint a positive picture of the employability-boosting activities available in the capital,” the report reads.

London students were slightly more likely than the UK’s average student to rate course organisation (+2% on 2022 figures), likelihood of getting a well-paid job (+1) and work placement and career prep opportunities (+4%).

“Though some of these gaps are small, taken together they paint a picture of a London student population that is particularly employability-minded,” the report reads.

London students being more concerned with employability outcomes of their course than their student experience may be in part “due to an older and more international student body with clear career goals in mind”, the report suggested.

However, one issue the report highlights, particularly in regard to international students in the capital, is that it’s important not to generalise when talking about the group – especially in how institutions approach and deal with their wellbeing. 

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ student – especially in London, which is home to the most hyper-diverse student body in the UK, and arguably the world,” said Diana Beech, CEO of London Higher, speaking with The PIE News.

“Yet… we need to be undertaking more granular investigations into the experience for different student groups. Another issue is that student wellbeing is also often measured in different ways by institutions, so there is a need for a more joined up approach across the university sector,” Beech continued. 

She noted that the Student Academic Experience Survey does provide a good “marker”, but a more coordinated effort is needed so data can be “pooled and institutions can work together to find solutions”. 

International students in London, as well as enjoying the employment prospects that London has to offer, are also part of a London cohort in which two-thirds have a paid job during their studies; significantly higher than the UK average of 55%. 

However, the number of hours worked in those jobs is actually less than average. International students are at the heart of that reasoning, most likely owing to visa restrictions on their hours, the report said. 

It also recommends that institutions should begin to review the amount of working hours students are taking up going forward, but not taking such reviews to an unnecessary level.

“Before catastrophising about increased working hours leading to poor academic performance, physical and mental health issues and even non-retention, we should be monitoring why students are taking up this work and whether it complements or hinders their student experience and outcomes. 

“For those undertaking paid employment for economic necessity, London’s institutions do have hardship funds and other mechanisms such as counselling to support students experiencing hardship.

“We need to be undertaking more granular investigations into the experience for different student groups”

“Tracking student working hours could be an important early indicator to which students may need this additional support,” Beech suggested. 

International students’ overall life satisfaction in the capital is also more polarised than it has been in recent years. 

Some 16% of non-EU international students still rate their life satisfaction, on a scale of one to 10, at nine or 10, while the ratio of EU students doing the same has grown to 14%. 

Non-EU international students are now the most likely group to say they have poor life satisfaction, whereas they used to be the least likely group to say so. 

Despite this issue, which could be down to the cost of living crisis currently affecting Londoners, three times as many domestic students as EU students rated the things they did in life “not worthwhile”.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ student – especially in London”

Similarly, non-EU students, contrary to 2022 figures, are now less likely than domestic students to say they consistently feel loneliness. 

The reason, Beech suggested, is largely down to the lifting of Covid restrictions, with internationals now “able to immerse themselves fully in student life and get back to seeing their families abroad as when they like”. 

“Thanks to the hard work that London’s universities are doing to create a sense of belonging for their students wherever they come from in the world, international students have plenty of support networks they can be a part of – from dedicated international student societies to links with local community faith and cultural groups,” Beech added.

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