“I think the Careers and Placement team are good but not the best."
Candidly examining diversity in higher-level education is a crucial discussion which is being deliberated in the 21st century.
The inclusion and acceptance of various ethnicities are imperative in allowing for societal harmony.
An important sector where diversity is recognised is at universities where international BAME students are studying to achieve their goals and careers.
An interaction with a group of international BAME students from Aston University allowed us to understand the positives and negatives for such students in higher education.
According to Aston University’s annual Student Equalities Report 2017/2018 their largest student group consists of Asian or Asian British at “43.68%” followed by “White at 32%.”
The report continued to mention that despite the increase in the student population since 2015, the “groups of Black or Black British students have not increased as much as other ethnicities.”
However, Aston University is encouraging more BAME students to join the university to ensure the inclusion of ethnic groups.
Aston University stands at the 34th position in the UK Ranking according to Complete University Guide 2020 and Aston Business school is ranked in the top 100 for business and management studies in the world.
DESIblitz had a focused discussion with a group of international BAME students to explore what higher education is like for such students and the resources and issues they may face.
Career Support Prior to University
Moving away from home and deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life is an intimidating notion, particularly when you are moving away from your home country.
It is a decision which is not to be taken likely as it is an entirely different experience when uprooting and moving away from home in pursuit of higher education.
However, upon speaking to Faareaha Ahmad, a second-year medical student at Aston University, it came to light that previous experiences was an influential factor. She said:
“I’ve grown up in a medical environment, so I was born into it. Initially, I didn’t want to do it despite all the medicine around me.
“But I did work experience at hospitals in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and I love it, so I wanted to do medicine.”
Another student, Naman who is studying Masters in Strategies and international Business, shared a similar experience. He explained:
“I’ve done an MBA in marketing. Marketing was very generic I wanted to get more niche. So, getting into strategy and business was something I liked to do.
“Before this (my course) I was into strategy and plan how to interact with dealers, distributors and architects. That is why I wanted to go abroad and explore beyond the borders.”
Undoubtedly, delving into the world of work helps cement your career choice. This was the case with Pakhi, who is studying Masters in Strategies and Marketing. She said:
“I was working as a business analyst before and the company I was working for dealt with market research.
“So, I was doing a project on market research and that is where I got my inclination towards marketing.”
Sometimes family influence can lead to an interest in a particular field.
Another marketing student, this time studying Strategic Marketing Management at Aston University explained how working with his uncle led him to pursue his current degree.
“When I was doing my undergrad,I had marketing in two semesters and when I was doing marketing I realised it was a good field which I wanted to work in, in the future.
“As soon as I graduated from Delhi University, I started doing a one-year work experience in a start-up organisation in India with my uncle.
“I handled the social media marketing for them. I want to go into the marketing field and that’s why I came to Aston University.”
After making this daunting decision, the next major task is to select which university you want to apply for.
With thousands of options available, trying to find help and guidance with this matter is difficult.
Why Aston University?
Undeniably, universities will do their best to market their courses in the best light to captivate the attention of potential students.
Yet, it is important to know what you are looking for in a university and find one which matches your criteria.
We asked the students what drew them to select Aston University as their final choice. Aditya explained:
“One of the reasons why I came to Aston was because of the ranking and the programme that they were offering me.
“When I was applying for Aston, I got to know that they have multiple opportunities for us. The good opportunity for us is that they have four different streams.
“If someone wants to do their third year abroad they can, or is someone wants to do work experience, they get one year of work experience extension in comparison to what other universities give you.
Aditya continued to mention that the city of Birmingham was another important contributing factor to choosing Aston University. He said:
“Birmingham is also the second most popular city in the country so that was also a major reason why I came to Aston.”
“The third was they have a business stimulation. So, if someone wants to do business relation in their programme they can do after their masters.
“The last one is a business idea. If you have a business idea, you can present it to Aston and they help you grow that idea.”
Expressing a similar view of the importance of Birmingham, Faareaha said:
“For me, I get a campus life right in the middle of a big city and that was very important.
“I didn’t want to be in a small town where I can’t go out and do anything. I wanted to be living on campus and get that life as well.”
Faareaha also explained that the structure of Aston Universities’ courses, particularly the work experience aspect was enticing. She said:
“Another reason was because of the way Aston run their courses. They are very work experience based and very hands on which I think for medicine is very important to get early exposure.
“We have placement from the first term in the first year. Most universities you won’t even see a hospital until the third year.”
Interestingly, in Faareaha’s first year at university, the majority of the students on her course came from a BAME background. She revealed:
“For my year, we were mainly international students. I think it was 80% international and 20% home.”
“But now, it’s gone back to the way other courses are so it’s 80% home and 20% international.
“But because there were so many international students it wasn’t that different to the way I have grown up.”
Ensuring he carried out thorough research before making his final decision, Naman explained:
“For me, it’s been quite a different journey. What I did was I wanted to get into strategy, so I serviced all the top universities.
“Then I segregating which was the top university for the batch and Aston was one of them. I contacted a few of the Aston alumni, I asked them about university life.”
With diversity being a significant factor in his choice, Naman wanted to ensure Aston University held a range of different students. He said:
“Plus, they have good international diversity. The alumni told me that they have people from all over the world and that is true.”
Naman continued to state the importance of convenient travel which would allow him to travel to London. He said:
“The third thing for me was the location. It is quite near to London. So, travelling is good, the employment opportunities are better compared to far-flung areas.
“Most of the headquarters for the big corporates are situated in London.
“Also, employers will know more about universities in big cities. They will know about the potential of students from these particular universities.”
Pakhi, who was already residing in the UK, wanted to make a change in career plans. She said:
“Last year at the same time I was here in the UK and I was working. At that time, I was searching for potential universities because it has been three and a half years and I wanted to make a switch.
“I contacted their international office and they were friendly and quick in replying to me. Because I was here, they told me I could travel to Birmingham and see the campus.
“I had no idea about the PDP (Professional Development Programme) or anything. But when I came over here, learning with practical experience was important.
“I met a professor from here, who came to Aston because of the business ranking. When I was looking at the ranking for my course it was the 34th in the world.
“I had universities who had better rankings but Aston provides a package for international students, where we can prove to an employer that we are capable enough of working for them.
“And because I was making a shift in a career I definitely wanted that one year to have the experience and work here.
“I came to the campus, met the international officers, they gave me a campus tour and it made a difference.”
On the other hand, Aditya, who was living in Delhi at the time revealed how an Aston University personnel was present at a career fair in India. He said:
“When I was in Delhi, I met of the Aston officers there. They had this career fair where. He told me Aston business ranking is amongst the top 50 in the UK as well.”
For Aditya, it was not only the academic side which mattered but also the sporting opportunities. He said:
“I really wanted to pursue an education where you have a good social life, academia and sports life because I’m a sports person as well.
“I was reading online that they have multiple sports and I’m playing squash for the university as well.
“It’s a very good platform for me, not only to excel in studies but also excel in the sports field.”
It is clear Aston University’s ability to offer work experience is extremely important to international BAME students who wish to find employment in the UK.
First Impressions of University Life
Arriving at university on your first day can be a nerve-wracking experience. A new place, new people and essentially a new world.
However, these international BAME students all had one aspect in common, Aston University made them feel welcomed. Pakhi shared:
“My first impression was that the enrolment was quick and made me think Aston has everything in place.
“The second thing which I noticed was they never let us sit with our friends one the first and second day and this was the best thing they have done.
“With the PDP, in the first semester we had teams and they made sure they mixed all the cultural groups. The team I had was two Chinese and one Thai person.”
Having never mixed with such ethnically diverse people, Pakhi expressed her gratitude for having such an opportunity. She said:
“It was so new to me because I never really interacted with them. So, in the first week, they made sure that each and everyone talked to each other.
“We were asked to give group presentations together and activities. It made us happy to communicate without any pressure with culturally diverse people. Now, I am very good friends with all of them.”
Aditya, who once considered himself to be an introvert explained how the PDP helped him come out of his shell. He said:
“When I came to the UK I was a bit of an introvert and I never used to talk to many people. But as time has passed I’ve become an extrovert.
“We had this PDP where we go to engage with people. I remember we had this consumer behaviour project where I was with three British people and it was just me and Pakhi the two Indian people.
“They were so helpful, we all divided the work equally and were able to communicate.”
Alongside his academic studies, Aditya also experienced the same kindness in sports. He said:
“In sports, it was a 2:20 ratio, two Indians and twenty British people and our coach was also British.
“He was very helpful. I have never felt discrimination over here. I have seen that people are very open. They want to interact.”
Speaking about her first impressions at Aston University, Faareaha recalled her flatmates. She described:
“Personally for me, I was the only international student in my flat everyone else was from London. Even though they were home students, they had moved away from home.
“We all bonded in the first week, I’m good friends with them. Despite us being from completely different places, we had that thing that we are all away from home so we helped each other settle in.”
Remembering her first week in university, Faria revealed how the international students were given activities to do to help familiarise themselves with Birmingham.
“Again, the medical school was very helpful. They gave us suggestions for food places.
“In the first week, they gave a scavenger hunt and it was places that would be useful to us like the hospital, the fruit and veg market in town to explore Birmingham and to help us know where things are.
“They also gave us a list of halal places we could go to in the city centre and across Birmingham.”
Sharing a similar impression, Naman also remembered his flatmates. He said:
“I had five different people in my flat; one from Thailand, China, UK, US and India.
“It was really good to interact with them to know about various cultures. The bad part was the weather, I hate UK weather.”
Unlike, the other international BAME students who live on campus, Pakhi decided to live away from the campus. She said:
“I don’t live on campus and I made this conscious decision not to live on campus.
“Living over there and not having anyone from Aston was a little different. I made friends from different universities.”
However, Pakhi highlighted a concern she felt when first joining Aston university. She explained:
“I think they could give us a guide. I’m a vegetarian so something about how and where to get things. I think if the university could provide guide books, not just for particular schools. That would help.”
Aston University Services
What the university has to offer apart from its academic courses is a major element for some students.
Whether it be support services or extracurricular societies they can join, students like to know what is available to them.
An interesting and resourceful tool Aston University offers to students is the United Students Application. Aditya said:
“We had United Students Application where you can talk to your flatmates.
“I got to know these people are living here, their email ID and phone numbers.
“One is from India, the other one from the US, the other one was British and the fourth one from Germany.”
He went on to mention how they made a WhatsApp group which allowed them to “break the ice” and get to know each other.
Another useful facility Aston University provides is the Hub. Pakhi said:
“We have a lot of student services. The Hub has some great services.
“For example, if you’re not feeling well and you want to see a councillor, you can go to book an appointment. If you have financial issues, they have a financial team.”
However, Faareaha chimed in saying she “would go to the medical school” instead. “We are like a family so we can talk to anyone there.
“We were the first batch of medical students that they ever had at Aston. The staff were very friendly, they are very willing to help us.
“Any support we need they are always there. Two people asked them to change our timetables slightly because they wanted to go to societies and they changed them the next week.
“They reply to our feedback a lot and most of them know us by name. They were very helpful in helping us settle in because we were a lot of international students and they gave us a lot of extra support than what is available from the general university.
“The home students were mostly from Birmingham. Even for them, they felt very integrated with us.
“They don’t discriminate between international and home students. We do everything together.”
She further added the medical school help many BAME students get a place on the course. She said:
“The medical school have a participation programme to allow people from lower backgrounds to have better opportunities to do medicine.
“They give lower grade offers which I think is great. It allows a lot of ethnic minority people to actually come in which I think is very important.”
However, sometimes students have problems with the university itself. When asked where the students would go if they were suffering from issues because of the university, Faareaha explained:
“The Student Union has an advice representation centre so if you have a problem with the university I would probably go to them first.”
“See what they say about it because they know about the legality behind it and they can help you a lot.”
The advice representation is an external team who can help provide support and guidance to students. She explained how her friend was having difficulties with her accommodation:
“I had a friend who had problems with her flatmate who was being violent, so with that, they called Aston security and she was moved to a different flat.
“She requested a same-sex flat but they put her down as a male so she ended up in a flat with six guys. Later, they moved her to an all-girls flat.”
Furthermore, two of the international BAME students, Aditya and Pakhi set up a marketing society on campus. Aditya said:
“In terms of society, Pakhi and I started the marketing society over here. So, it was a stepping stone for us.
Pakhi continued: “When I came over here I saw the business school had such good ranking but there was no marketing society.
“So, I applied for it and within a month we got the approval. Aditya is handling the social media for us.”
It is important for universities to ensure international BAME students feel welcomed. To do this, Naman recalled how he was collected from the airport. He said:
“When I came to the UK, they came to receive us from the airport.
“When we came here they had the student volunteers to help us settle down, to show us around the campus and whenever we needed help they were there to help us.
“Secondly, they had various programmes where we got to interact with various students from all over the world.”
What can Aston University do better?
Alongside the positive aspects of Aston University, there is always scope for improvement. For international BAME students, one of the major apprehensions is interacting with other people.
Aditya revealed that he wishes more social events were put into place to help with interaction. He said:
“When I came here, I tried finding Indian friends because you want to find a comfort zone and then try to expand your horizon.
“From my point of view, I think Aston can offer some social events where you can talk to master students from different courses.”
Agreeing with Aditya, Faareaha said:
“I think have it throughout the year. You go to so many societies and events at the beginning of the year that you forget.
“Then we get to January and you think, ‘I’m bored what do I do now?’ So, having those events throughout the year would be good.”
Aditya further added:
“Maybe on campus, they can organise an open space so you can engage.”
Adding to the discussion, Naman said:
“Initially, when university started they did a lot of things but now we don’t have anything like that. We only know the friends we made at that time.
“Now, we don’t get to interact with people apart from our classmates. Maybe once a month, it is important to make a social gathering.”
Highlighting why it is difficult for medical students to interact, Faareaha explained:
“Within the medical school, we integrate a lot but that’s because we see each other a lot.
“We don’t really interact with people out of the medical school because of our timetables. We have a 9 am – 5 pm every day apart from Wednesday. I think having those (social events) would be good.”
Career Support after Graduation
Helping students complete their degrees is an amazing achievement but what about helping them post-graduation?
We asked the students what the university offers to help support them to achieve their careers. Naman said:
“We have a Careers and Placement team here. We regularly meet with Mr Iwan who is the head of careers and placement.
“He is really helpful and guides you on how to brush up your CV, cover letter and how to interact with various employers.”
However, Faareaha explained that, the medical school helps them as opposed to the Careers and Placement team.
“With the medical school, it is a five-year course. They make us do PDP plans to prepare us for working life.
“For us, it’s more the medical school help us rather than the career and placement team.”
In addition, Aditya said:
“I think the Careers and Placement team are good but there is a scope for improvement.
“Why? Because as I remember I was getting a chance to study at University College UCD.
“They had career fairs where they used to call Facebook and all multi-national corporations.
“Over here, I’ve only seen one major event where you got to meet the big guys. Over there, they were organising two or three events every semester.
“I think career and placements should organise more events so that there are more future prospects for graduates who are trying to accomplish their degrees.
Pakhi continued to draw attention to where she believes Aston University miss out on helping international students. She said:
“Your application gets lost in a pool of applications but if Aston has connections then it easier.
“Where they miss the mark for me, is as an international student I really want the list of companies at the homes office website who can actually sponsor you.
“I want a list of those companies who are willing to employ international students. This would definitely improve the employability for international students.”
Agreeing with Pakhi, Aditya said:
“I think Aston can provide data, they can do a seminar where they can tell us, ‘Our graduate students have gone into these companies.’
“If Aston can help me climb that ladder I think that would be a good thing for us.”
Pakhi further added:
“We need filtered out data which can help us because with our studies going on we don’t have that time to focus on everything. We need more help with approaching the employers.”
Naman went on to underline the problem lies in getting a sponsorship. He said:
“For international students, the issue is getting a sponsorship.
“Here in the UK you have to apply online so for us international students you get rejected on the first stage because of the international sponsorship. Even if we are the best candidates they don’t get to meet us.”
Through increasing international student interaction with potential employers and professionals who are willing to provide sponsorships, international students can excel even further.
Aston University is known for its great employment rate with “79.2% of graduates in professional jobs or further study” after completing their degree according to the Complete University Guide 2020.
To further support international BAME students, Aston University has implemented various events, services and much more to provide help.
The university has one of the best rankings as a business school in the world and it continues to climb the ladder and add more value to its students every year.
Aston University and its Business School is an excellent choice for international students offering a plethora of courses which support rewarding careers.
With the university being in the heart of a diverse and vibrant city like Birmingham, only adds more fun to the student experience, especially for those of a BAME background.