As the first cohort of #WeAreInternational Student Ambassadors end their term, we’ve sat down with them to reflect on their experiences. The #WeAreInternational Ambassador programme is UKCISA’s student network of global future leaders. We are proud to work with and learn from our Student Ambassadors to help deliver a vision for a world-class international student experience.
Nebu George is a PhD student in Archaeology at Bangor University. Originally from India, Nebu has lived in Wales since 2013 and is an expert on life as an international student in the UK. His first-hand knowledge of issues international students face drives his passion for lobbying for change.
Nebu has made such an impact that in August 2021, he received the Draper’s Company Medal for Outstanding Postgraduate in recognition of his research, contributions to Bangor, and work with UKCISA. We discussed his growth within the Student Ambassador programme, his dedication to solving employability issues international students face, and his hopes for the future.
How did you become involved with the #WeAreInternational student ambassador programme?
I didn’t know much about UKCISA until November 2019 when Bangor sent me to their International Student Forum. At the forum, I discovered the significance of UKCISA’s work and heard about their new ambassador programme. I remember thinking – wow, this is something I want to be a part of.
However, I was nervous to apply because I’d never held a position influencing policy. In fact, I was so hesitant that I didn’t submit my application until the last minute before the deadline as I didn’t think I would be accepted. But I was, and since then I’ve accomplished a lot in the role.
You mention that you didn’t have experience before the programme. Since then, you’ve become the chair of the Student Advisory Group (SAG) and a co-leader of UKCISA’s Employability Working Group. Would you say that the programme has been a transformative experience for you?
Absolutely. I’m vocal that students should join regardless of their experience level. I’m a great example of what it can lead to.
I remember at my first event – a meeting with Universities UK International for the #WeAreTogether campaign – I was so nervous that I needed to take the entire day off to calm down afterwards. But as I kept attending events, my confidence grew. I overcame my fear of public speaking and meeting with influential people. The ambassador programme helped me greatly with personal and professional growth.
“The ambassador programme helped me greatly with personal and professional growth.”
What stands out to you as your most rewarding experience as an ambassador?
One thing that stands out to me was my contribution to the acceptance of the one-year UK master’s degree in India.
Until recently, India did not accept year-long UK master’s degrees. This was an issue because UK universities did not disclose this information to prospective students who were unaware their qualifications might not be valid in their home countries. I’d read about many Indian students who were rejected from PhDs in India because their UK degrees were not valid. As student ambassador, I called for this issue to be added to UKCISA’s policy paper and I attended conferences to speak on it.
Cut to December 2020, the then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab and his Indian counterpart made a deal to mutually recognise all degrees from both countries.
Perhaps I might have been a small drop in the ocean of people lobbying for change, but one drop can still make a difference. It felt great.
“Perhaps I might have been a small drop in the ocean of people lobbying for change, but one drop can still make a difference.”
I know that you are passionate about employability. What do you think needs to change in terms of employability opportunities and services for international students?
Well, the new Graduate Route is a step forward…but there’s still work to be done.
Employers must be made aware of new immigration changes. There needs to be a strong campaign breaking the stigma that international students are expensive to hire – they aren’t. Universities must also proactively tell employers the benefits of hiring us. Not only are we more culturally aware and often multilingual, but we bring in international networks.
I think university careers services also need to focus more on international students. They tend to focus on opportunities in the UK, and, more specifically, opportunities for home students. There needs to be an equal playing field. Employability is at the forefront of international students’ minds. Part of the reason we study here is to stand out from competition in the job market in our home countries and in the UK. Careers services need more funding so that they can expand their marketing to international students.
The last thing I’ll say is that the UK currently has a skills shortage, and international students can fill it. Let’s not cause unnecessary confusion when there are people who already live in the UK and want to work here.
“The new Graduate Route is a step forward…but there’s still work to be done.”
What advice would you give future Student Ambassadors?
If you’re passionate about something, raise it. UKCISA will help you find a solution. This programme gives you a powerful voice to make change; when issues are raised by ambassadors, they are taken seriously.
I would also say that nobody should be discouraged from applying. If you’re an international student and you want to make a positive change, apply. Even if you have no experience, UKCISA will help you.
“[The #WeAreInternational Student Ambassador programme] gives you a powerful voice to make change; when issues are raised by ambassadors, they are taken seriously.”
Now that your term as ambassador is coming to an end, what’s next for you?
Once I finish my PhD, I’d like a career in academia. However, my experience with UKCISA has been so rewarding that I would not hesitate to join the higher education sector working in policy. It wouldn’t feel like a job because I’m so passionate about it – I know it sounds cheesy. For the time being, though, I’m keeping both options open.
Find out more about the #WeAreInternational Student Ambassador programme.