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University reviews policy on social events

The new advice tells staff not to "disregard the preferences of other cultures"

Guidelines on how to make international students more comfortable within the university have been issued to Oxford teaching staff.

The new recommendations, entitled ‘Making the most of cultural diversity’ touch upon a variety of topics such as ‘Cultural Self-Awareness’ whilst also providing practical advice on how best to approach social events in colleges.

International students make up around 40 per cent of Oxford’s overall student body, with up to 56 per cent at graduate level. There are currently students from 140 countries studying at Oxford.

It is stated that social situations may be difficult for international students due to difference in custom and thus advised that non-alcoholic drinks should always be offered and food options “carefully considered”.

The report states, “A British cultural phenomenon is to provide food, such as snacks or canapes, as a form of welcome to newcomers or visitors. However, this practice may disregard the preferences of other cultures.”

The guidance added that while academics should attend social occasions, they should be conscious that some students might find them “awkward”, and it recommends ensuring soft drinks and other food options, such as canapés, are also provided.

Ioana Burtea, Merton College’s JCR International Students’ representative claims that the guidelines may be problematic as they make clear distinction between British culture and the culture specific to a foreign nation.

She told Cherwell, “Not only is British culture itself not homogeneous (just think of all the times your Scottish friends have been teased about eating haggis), but a significant portion of international students have a diverse background, especially if they’ve attended an international school pre-Oxford. The attempt to classify students into different “dominant value groups” is a superficial approach to say the least.”

David Palfreyman, the bursar of New College, recently told the Daily Mail, “I am bemused as to what a culturally neutral canapé would be. That could be quite a challenge.

“I think this advice might be a little bit oversensitive to very minor comments.”

Alongside advice on social situations, the guidelines also touch upon pastoral care, stating that international students may be more likely to take a “failure is not an option” approach to their studies, which could affect their emotional wellbeing and thus require different support to UK students.

The report also warns of the different approaches to essay writing which international students may have been taught to students coming from abroad. It offers resources entitled ‘Learning to write at Oxford’ in order to help them to adapt to a new way of working.

The guide also states that “promoting understanding must outweigh other concerns” and thus “jargon, idioms and colloquialisms” should be avoided whenever it is possible to do so.

A spokesperson for the Oxford University said “We make no apology for doing all we can to make all feel welcome.”

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