Advocating for change: supporting the international student experience

From our Chief Executive
09 February 2021
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This year is continuing with its frenetic pace, with the long-awaited refresh of the International Education Strategy (IES) landing on Saturday. Although we were expecting some heightened recognition for our work, the focus on the international student experience (warranting a whole section of the strategy, no less) is a very welcome outcome indeed – and I think testament to the incredible dedication of our membership.

Reviewed and renewed with the dual impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU in mind, the refreshed IES places emphasis on collaboration and recognises the incredible work that’s been taking place across the sector to ensure international students have been supported throughout this time.

Of the 14 actions in the newly updated strategy, UKCISA is explicitly mentioned as leading on two of these, namely:
  • Studying in the UK, Action 5 – this will see us working in partnership with the Office for Students (OfS) to lead a new project “to find ‘what works’ in ensuring international students can integrate and receive a fulfilling academic experience in the UK”
  • Graduate outcomes and employability, Action 6 – this refers to our recently formed International Student Employability Group (ISEG), which brings together sector partners with the CBI to “build understanding of the UK’s skills needs, international labour markets, and barriers to international graduate employability and share examples of best practice across the sector”
There is an opportunity for interested members to get involved with this new OfS project right from the off. In the coming weeks, their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team are running two workshops to gather views from our members – these workshops are taking place on Tuesday 23rd February and Thursday 25th February, find out how you can book your spot here.

As many of you will remember, last summer we published our position paper outlining the 15 key steps government should take to deliver a world-class international student experience. It is immensely rewarding to see not just some of our key asks reflected in the refreshed IES, but also the positive language about student experience.

This recognition of the importance of the international student experience is testament to the work you all do every day – and we should all be very proud that this has been recognised so resolutely by government.

Putting the student voice at the heart of policymaking

In our work to advocate for the international student experience, ensuring the student voice is heard and considered has been a driving force.

By working collaboratively with our #WeAreInternational student ambassadors on key issues from student mental health to employability, we have been able to place the student experience firmly on the agenda and ensure that their voices are heard where it matters most. The influence of our ambassadors should not be underestimated, and we are very grateful to have them on board.

The next phase of our work in this area will be continuing to develop the International Student Charter. Our student ambassadors are leading the working group on this – and critically, this is something we see as a collaborative endeavour. We will be seeking input from members to co-create this charter, to ensure that it demonstrates the sector's commitment to a world-class student experience to both current and prospective students.

Movement on the Graduate Route

UKCISA has been in close dialogue with government on the Graduate Route, both through our role on the Home Office's Simplification of the Rules review committee and through our advocacy work. We’ve provided extensive feedback on the draft rules and hope to see many of our recommendations incorporated.

Recently, we've worked collaboratively with BUILA and UUK - informed by data collected by the Immigration Compliance Network - to highlight risks associated with the 6 April cut-off date, and inconsistencies with other government communications advising against travel to the UK.

We are also convening another meeting later this month with sector representatives and the technical team at the Home Office to agree a proportionate way forward for sponsors to notify Home Office of individuals’ eligibility for the Route.

Fee status regulations

We finally have sight of amendments made to the fee regulations for higher education in England and Scotland. The team is hard at work analysing how these will impact fees assessments for students, including those from the EU, to inform our advice to members, with online training to follow.

What’s next?

We will be keeping you all regularly up-to-date with progress from our actions in the IES – so make sure you’re subscribed to our email updates and following us on social media, where we share the latest updates, analysis and news.

Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic – and rapidly changing government policies – I am proud of what we have been able to achieve together and look forward to what this year holds for us at UKCISA.