Education: Anxiety in the UK: Serious complaints by overseas student

Education: Anxiety in the UK: Serious complaints by overseas students are
unjustified, says their university

The Guardian – United Kingdom
Feb 08, 2005

About 400 students from east Asia have enrolled for programmes this
year at Royal Holloway, University of London. They are paying at
least three times the fees of UK students, but came because they
regarded it as a prestigious place to study. But following a series
of what appear to be racially motivated assaults, several students at
the campus in Egham, Surrey, have expressed concerns about security,
accommodation, and what they describe as a culture of isolation within
the college. These claims are vociferously denied by Royal Holloway.

A Korean female postgraduate exchange student was attacked by three
youths – one man and two women – inside a college laundry room at
the main campus in November, 2004. They verbally abused her and hit
her continuously for half an hour, till she fell on the floor. Then
they started kicking her. She was left with bad injuries and bruises
all over her face.

“There is no security system at this university,” said Mr Jin,
president of the Korean society, who asked us not to publish his first
name. The incident provoked great anger among east Asian students
and overseas students in general. The Korean society, along with the
Chinese society, Japanese society, Taiwanese society and the Indian
society, presented a petition with 400 signatures to the college,
demanding that a satisfactory security system be installed, with
better lighting on campus and an increased patrol.

“In the first two weeks, patrolling increased. But things got back to
usual after that,” said a Korean student who doesn’t want to be named.

Two months later, on January 28, a Chinese-German student was attacked
by 10 youths at the south gate, outside the college grounds. On the
same night, an Indian student was attacked.

“The college could have done better on informing students about the
attacks,” said Zepyur Batikyar, an Armenian MA student. “We got to
hear of them mostly from other students.”

“We feel extremely excluded by our skin colour,” said Yu-Jen Bai,
a postgraduate business student from Taiwan, “We almost feel we can
only be protected by the presence of a white student.”

Royal Holloway emphatically denied it had responded inadequately to
the attacks. All the students have been offered support and counselling
since the attacks, a spokeswoman said.

“The incident involving a Korean student was taken very seriously,
and subjected to a full investigation in collaboration with Korea
University, [the] students’ union, the local community and local
police. The college has also provided ongoing support for the student

“The student support officer, who has been working closely with the
Korean student involved in this incident, has received much gratitude
for the care and support, and we understand the student is hoping to
return to Royal Holloway for further study.”

After the November attack, the spokeswoman said, a bulletin was issued
by the students’ union alerting students. “Lighting systems throughout
the campus were reviewed and the level of patrol by security officers
was increased to cover additional areas on the campus, in particular,
those close to halls of residences, and arrangements for these patrols
were continued through the vacation period. In addition, the college
is working closely with the local community and police to seek ways
to ensure that all members of the community continue to work and live
in a safe and secure environment.”

It was “totally inaccurate” to say the college had no security
system. “Each of the halls of residence has a resident warden to
support students and the college operates 24-hour security presence.”

Students, particularly east Asian students, feel fearful of these
attacks and are deeply concerned that something should be done. But,
according to Jin, they have no proper channels of complaint and are
worried that too much noise would have a negative effect on their
status at college.

“There is practically no means of communication between overseas
students and the college authorities,” said a Taiwanese MBA student.

Royal Holloway’s spokeswoman said: “This could not be further from
the truth. The college prides itself on its level of pastoral care.”

Yuki Yanagi, a 22-year-old postgraduate student from Japan, says that
the attack in November “is not just a Korean issue. To the eyes of
locals, we look similar and I feel the same thing could happen to me
or my friends.

“I have become very cautious. Nowadays I only do shopping in the
daytime and in British, male company.” My parents are worried
about me.”

Safety has, in fact, been a long-term concern. “Incidents of attacks
and harassment have been going on here for at least two years. MBA
students who studied here in 2003/04 warned me about safety the first
day I got here,” said Yu-Jen Bai. “There should have been stronger
action from the students themselves. I never imagined safety to be
a problem at London University.

“The problem is our student societies are only interested in organising
social events. They aren’t interested in fighting for our rights. I
guess it’s because they are run by younger people, undergraduates,
who aren’t very aware.”

The students suffer from being both separate and visible. “Life
is isolated and lonely here,” says Sangseuk Park. Like many other
east Asian students, Park chose to study at Holloway because of its
excellent international reputation. “And the campus looks so nice,”
he said. He is self-funded and pays a tuition fee of pounds 8,500
for a one-year course.

Park finds language a barrier. He only socialises with east Asian
students. “It’s not so easy to interact with local students. Perhaps
it’s cultural differences.”

“It isn’t always language that is the barrier,” says Zepyur Batikyar.
“Self-blame was my initial reaction when I experienced distance from
the local environment. But I understood it wasn’t me at all when I
began to interact so well with other overseas students.”

“We don’t go out much. Our weekend entertainment is going to the
cinema in Staines with other Chinese students,” says Gu Chen, 24,
a Chinese postgraduate in Business Information Systems.

Yuki Yanagi came to this college for its reputation in women’s
studies. She’s eager to be socially active and learn about local
culture. She joined the women’s football team where there are hardly
any Asian players, and went to watch the football in the local pub.

“But the best time of my stay in Royal Holloway was when I met east
Asian students. We socialise a lot and I feel things are getting
better and better.”

She’s disappointed with the level of interaction between overseas
and local students. “I often have racially abusive jokes thrown at
me by fellow students, and some of the sexually harassing behaviour
really disgusts me.”

Pei-Ling Lu, a business postgraduate from Taiwan, says: “We didn’t
really know that much about the course structure or the environment
before we came, because all the information was provided by agencies
at home, who gave us nothing but college brochures.”

All the east Asian students we spoke to talked about the administrative
inefficiency of the college. “Our requests are often ignored or
delayed,” one said.

Accommodation is also one of the biggest concerns among overseas
students here. “There is a large difference in the types of
accommodation we get, and the criteria of housing distribution seems
arbitrary,” said one student.

“There’s no support for overseas students here,” said Gu Chen. “We
believe that overseas students tend to be given poorer-facilitated
housing. The course is also very different from what I had
expected. It’s loosely organised, and the teaching hours are too
short – only two days a week.”

The postgraduates on the business courses seem particularly unhappy
with what they get in return for the high tuition fees. “The college
facilities are commercialised,” one MBA student said. “There are
bars run by outside companies, which charge higher prices than local
pubs. But there aren’t enough academic resources, such as a good
library. This is only geared towards undergraduate interests.”

The college denied these charges. “International students are given
priority in securing accommodation within halls of residence. In
the case of a large group of students, such as those from Korea
University, we also work to accommodate them across the campus, to
enable them to integrate more fully within the campus community,”
said the spokeswoman.

“We consider our accommodation standards to be high – situated in a
135-acre parkland campus. Royal Holloway opened a brand new pounds
23m state-of-the-art halls development in September 2004. Many
international students are within these halls. Indeed, we have a
collaborative venture with Korea University, and a section of the
halls have been named in honour of a Korean industrialist.”

She added: “We have many channels in operation to receive feedback
from students. Standards of teaching at the college are frequently
praised by students, and the college’s record demonstrates our high
commitment to teaching and research.”