Opinion: Will regulating student behaviour protect foreigners on campus?

All students should have the right to feel safe and welcome on university campuses - could a waver achieve this? Source: Shutterstock

Studying abroad should be a time for personal exploration and educational growth, but antisocial outbursts from other students can sometimes call this unique time for development into question.

In the UK, universities have increasingly been found to harvest racist sentiments and Islamophobic attitudes. According to a recent survey, over 50 percent of students report witnessing a racist event on campus, while religious hate crimes are up 30 percent since Brexit, according to statistics released by the Home Office.

Despite 85 percent of UK students voting to Remain in the Brexit vote, it’s speculated that the outcome paved the way not only for the UK to readjust its moral compass in favour of national growth, but for students – and all citizens – to do the same.

Amidst the Brexit confusion, the UK has been keen to remain within the top three study abroad destinations alongside the US and Australia. Recent data released by QS Enrolment Solutions found that only 10 percent of students from outside of the EU were dissuaded from studying in the UK, and so it seems the nation has been successful in this.

It’s possible that the detrimental effect of Brexit on international students won’t come from the political implications or be immediately apparent, as changing cultural attitudes begin to infect and spread across university campuses.

In an attempt to curb these attitudes before it’s too late, universities could implement a behaviour contract that reinforces what universities should be about – a place of academic exploration and inner growth.

Durham University has suggested enforcing such a code of conduct to its students in order to protect Durham’s historic values from the raucous nightlife that often comes with the territory of UK higher education.

The University of Buckingham took similar measures earlier this year, implementing a ‘drug-free’ contract where students pledged to stay off illegal substances.

While there is no guarantee that merely signing on a dotted line will have any real impact on student’s behaviour, it serves to reinforce a university’s moral standpoint and asks students to reconsider what they’re willing to risk.

Knowing the university has a zero tolerance to racism on campus, a principle reinforced through a code of conduct, at least reassures international students that those who stray will face punishment.

This is a luxury international students in the UK don’t currently have. In fact, students have reported having to take their racist abuse to mainstream media channels before the university has taken any action against the culprits. Not only does this send out the strong message that victims will not be taken seriously, but it also shows the university cares more about bad publicity than it does its current students’ welfare.

By introducing a behaviour contract that explicitly outlines a zero tolerance policy towards racist or anti-religious conduct, as well as specific disciplinary measures that will be taken if anything is reported, international students will likely be reassured of their safety and their place among the UK’s academic community.

Racism should have no place on university campuses. Source: Shutterstock

Saying this, even if a contract does manage to curb racist abuse, it doesn’t even begin to tackle the underlying prejudices that can make society so unforgiving for non-domestic students.

They are likely still to face ignorant comments about Hijabs being repressive, they are still inclined to sense judgement at the mention of oppressive governments, and they are still bound to see people’s eyes glaze over when they hear a foreign accent.

Entrenched views that even the most well-intentioned of UK students harness in their subconscious are unlikely to be changed by a behaviour contract, or any other kind of ‘quick fix’ solution.

But, if it makes international students feel more welcome within UK universities and keeps unpalatable opinions at bay, it’s worth it both for them and for UK academia at large.

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