Nottingham PG Cert ISAS - the domino effect

Blog for members
18 September 2017
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Ally Layton-Bennett worked as International Student Support Officer at York St John University. Ally graduated from the PG Certificate in International Student Advice and Support in 2016.  Here, Ally talks about her reasons for taking the course, her experience of studying on it and the positive consequences since completing it.

In 2017 Ally moved to the University of Northumbria to take up a more senior position. This blog was written prior to this.

What had you studied prior to the PG Cert ISAS?

I did my undergraduate study in USA and had lots of opportunities to get involved in student affairs there so I knew I wanted to work in the area of international student advice.  I came to the UK as an international student and completed a Masters in UK Global and International Citizenship Education at the University of York.  I then worked at the University of Leeds, then joined York St John.

What attracted you to the PG Cert ISAS?

I was interested because I thought it would give me the practical context as well as academic weight that I was looking for.  I really like the link with Nottingham University and UKCISA.  I wanted my career to progress and I wanted to gain a greater breadth of knowledge of the international student agenda in the UK. The course seemed to offer a way to back up the skills I already had – and I was right about that.  So personally, I was attracted to the more practical aspect of the course rather than the academic side.

What were your expectations before starting the course?

I didn’t expect to leave the course with such strong friendships. I really made some good friends and professional connections on the course.
I was clear on the structure of the course in advance and what we were going to cover and I was clear on the logistics; that it was in residential blocks.

Were there any surprises about the course?

How experiential it is.  I enjoyed the mix of teaching styles of the different tutors and Max, the course leader is very strong on experiential learning. This made me a more reflective student and also gave me time to reflect on my work.  Much of this reflection was ethics based and I liked seeing how you use the learning on a daily basis.

How did you fit study in with your full time work?

York St John gave me some study time which helped a lot.  The weekend blocks run Friday to Sunday so I had to take four Fridays off. It made a difference that my institution was supporting me.  Weekends were tiring: experiential learning is intense. Going back to work on the Monday was challenging and so it might have been a good idea to take the Monday off.
York isn’t far from Nottingham so travel to the course was not an issue for me. I enjoyed the residential aspect of the weekends – the accommodation at Nottingham University (students get discount at the Orchard Hotel there) is really lovely – it felt like a bit of holiday.
But I forgot how much time it takes to write an academic essay.  All of us felt moments of struggle and it’s a challenge to balance study with work and it’s hard saying no to friends and family to do academic work.  But the course is designed around the fact that we are working full time. And having done this alongside full time work gave me more of an appreciation of accomplishment.

What did you cover in the different modules?

The course builds in intensity and the first module eased us in – I think the course is really cleverly designed in that way.
The first module on cross cultural aspects of advice and support was the easiest for me  because I had studied a lot of this in the past.
The second module on advice giving and client care is influenced by Gestalt theory and that was really interesting.  It’s about personal reflection and had very different feel to the other modules. If you are not actually doing advice work, this module might feel a bit of a challenge.
The third module on ethical and legal frameworks was perhaps the most difficult for me as it is about challenging personal ethics and values. I think the others found it hard but I also found it the most interesting. I liked having a practical standpoint and looking at case law and applying it to my institution. This is a really good model to keep using in my work.  I have been less hesitant now with cases because I know where I stand.
The fourth module is about managing complexity and enhancing our influence and impact in our institution.  For me this was challenging as we were going through a restructure at the time.  But this is the module that gave me most confidence.  I now understand where I sit in the organisation and how important my role is and how it fits in with everyone else. This  feels very empowering – it’s so helpful to be able to see the big picture.

How has the course benefited you?

Firstly – I have a group of people I can go to for support. It’s like a face to face version of the online UKCISA forum. We are like-minded having gone through the course together and so it feels like I now have a safety net of colleagues.  It also boosted my confidence. We have skills to do our work with students and dealing with geopolitics but this course really brings out how important this work is. 
It has had a positive impact on me personally.  I recently put forward a case for the value of my own work within the institution and my role has now been reviewed.  This resulted in us taking on another member of staff.  So I would say that the course gave me the boost I needed to ask for a higher value to be placed on the work I do.

This course also helped me to identify the unique value that my institution brings to the sector, and just how much a smaller institution like York St John has to offer.

This gave me the confidence to apply for a UKCISA grant which was successful.  So there’s a kind of domino effect.

What were the benefits to your institution?

At the time I took the course I was an international fee payer so it was much more expensive than I expected so I could only do this with funding from York St John.  By investing in the course, York St John got me to present to others in the institution about learning from the modules. This benefited my colleagues and enabled me to get more involved in my institution and raise my professional profile in the institution.  York St John was keen for any writing and research to be relevant to them so I chose essay topics that were very particular to my small institution. One of the great things about the course is that you can personalise the work to make it applicable to your own situation because you get to set your own essay titles. This is an added bonus. 

Do you have any advice for members considering taking the PG Cert?

Speak to your institutions to see what support you can get.  Are there any funds available?  Can you get time off? It brings professional kudos to you but also to the institution because it shows that your institution really cares about the work   If you are hesitant contact Nottingham to find out more about the course and essays etc.  Nottingham is very helpful and easy to talk to about this and can answer your questions. 
But I would say go for it!  It’s a commitment in time and money but even if you do something different in a future career there is a lot of learning that you can apply in different roles.

Are there any reasons not to take the course?

If you have a lot of family commitments and you don’t have any study support from your institution – evaluate what you can realistically do with your time.
If you are looking for a very academic course and abstract examinations about geopolitics, this is not for you.  It’s a practical course for a professional qualification so it’s very much about being a practitioner.
You need to be open to group work and working and sharing and experiencing with others – if that makes you uncomfortable, this is not your kind of course. 

But for me it has been a tribute to UKCISA.  For me as an individual it has given me more of a grounding in the sector – the course gave me the connection to the sector I wanted and now I feel that I belong.

There is still time to apply to start the PG Cert in November 2017 - deadline 10 October 2017. For details of the course and how to apply go to the Nottingham website  (Please note that the Nottingham website lists 19 October as the application deadline but you are advised to apply by 10 October to ensure sufficient time to process - and if are applying with non-standard qualifications - apply asap!)