The Times Higher Education Awards 2009 were marked last night with a gala dinner held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.
Aston University had been successfully shortlisted for the accolade of ‘Outstanding Support for Students’ this year and although the University did not claim the title this year – it was won by Leicester University – Aston has much to be proud of. There were 600 nominations from 130 institutions for the Awards so to be shortlisted to the final four in this category is an achievement in itself.
This was the fifth year of The Times Higher Education Awards and the Awards are firmly established in the world of Higher Education. Previous winners in student support categories include Brunel University, Middlesex University, Glasgow Caledonian University and Loughborough University.
Professor Helen Higson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Relations said: ‘This is a fantastic achievement for Aston University. The University’s application was based on the outstanding and extensive support given to our international students. There has been rapid growth in the number of overseas students who choose to study at Aston as the University’s reputation continues to grow. This is testimony to the outstanding support they are given both before they start their studies and throughout their time here at Aston University, and we are constantly enhancing our work in this area.’
Aston now has over 2,000 students from outside the EU; this equates to approximately 20 per cent of our students. We also have another 7 per cent who come from EU countries outside the UK.
During 2007/8 a comprehensive review of the University’s support to international students was conducted. This led to important initiatives being introduced in 08/09 which has built on Aston’s already strong commitment to student support.
The main features which have contributed to our success in this category are:
The development of an International Student Support Unit which, together with the Students’ Guild Advice and Representation Centre, offers support and advice. Visa issues are one of the main areas of concern for international students and Aston now has four qualified visa advisors on hand to assist in this process.
- Free extra English language classes. These are available via the Centre for English Language and Communication Aston (CELCA) to all students whose first language is not English and is supplemented by group sessions in the Learning Development Centre (LDC) and Writing Mentors, who work on an individual basis with any student who drops in to the LDC.
- The appointment of an International Student Employability Advisor who provides customised careers support for International students, as well as advice to staff and employers.
- An innovative International Welcome Week with a programme to encourage students to engage with the University and one another. Highlights this year included interactive intercultural awareness sessions; a quiz (with useful prizes such as free meals in the canteen) to help students find their way around the campus; an information fair at which students were able to find out about University life or learn how to cook healthy recipes during cookery demonstrations; and a sports day featuring cross-continental teams.
- A full social programme has been introduced which includes a Christmas party, weekend visits and the use of Facebook - all of which encourage communication. This builds on the activities of the International Office whose work in pre-arrival missions and advice already had a high reputation from students.
- One World Week, run jointly with the Students’ Guild, which featured a procession and balloon release, cultural and food festivals, an inter-nation sports contest, and ending with a celebration of the Chinese New Year.
Evidence that this new activity has been appreciated by the international student community can be found in the International Student Barometer Autumn Wave returns. The data shows that the initiatives mentioned above have been much appreciated. The Welcome Week has risen to a 92% satisfaction rating, while students placed Aston first out of the comparator group for Careers Advice (10% above average).
Aspects says a big congratulations to all of those who helped the University get so far in The Times Higher Education Awards 2009. Keep it up!
Words by Louise Russell