A review of 2021 Annual Conference

09 July 2021

Wow!  We think that truly sums up #UKCISA2021!  Our first ever virtual conference was held from June 28 to July 2, where 429 delegates attended.  It was a fantastic five days of engaging sessions, from thought-provoking keynote speeches, to stimulating roundtable discussions, compelling panel sessions and a host of interactive peer-led workshops.

May we remind you to please complete the evaluation form which has been sent to your registered email address.  It is very important to us to assess how our delegates found the conference this year, especially as this was our first UKCISA conference in a virtual space.  We would be most grateful for your thoughts, and you have until 16 July to give us your feedback.  Upon completing the evaluation form, you will be entered into a prize draw to win a free UKCISA webinar from the 2021-22 schedule (to be published).

We had a selection of keynote speakers, with our conference being opened by Professor Koen Lamberts, Chair of UKCISA board, who underscored the importance of the UK possessing a globally competitive offer to international students.  His speech further outlined how international students contribute in so many ways, to the vibrancy and intellectual life of UK, cities and campuses.  Tuesday saw a great session from the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, with a key message – “Education is, in my view, unavoidably international and I strongly believe this trend of internationalisation will strengthen in the future.”  Colin Yeo also spoke on Tuesday, with a full and frank analysis of current immigration policy, alongside taking questions from delegates.  Lord Bilimoria’s keynote on Wednesday was an insightful session, reflection on the past, present and future student migration and actions of all party parliamentary group for international students.  A special highlight of the week was the speech from Kevin Foster, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration who revealed, exclusively at #UKCISA2021, on Thursday (yes, on the day of the Graduate Route launch!) that Covid concessions on visa rules around a requirement to be in the UK to study will be extended.  This was our most attended session across the week, and it was fantastic for the Minister to exclusively disclose this latest update at the UKCISA Annual Conference.

Fascinating discussions took place at the two roundtables that we hosted – The International Student Charter and Graduate Route.  Both sessions enabled delegates to come together to talk openly and honestly with their peers, leading to some compelling conversations and will continue beyond the conference.  Several sessions were interactive, and peer led, on the themes across the conference from immigration and compliance to student and staff wellbeing and inclusive student communities.  As ever a key strand of conference were the training sessions delivered by UKCISA’s Advice and Training team.  In addition, delegates heard UKCISA’s Peer Support Scheme, a new initiative shaped by talking to international student advisers across the sector was outlined in an engaging session.  Feedback was given from two focus groups, with interactive polls being shared for delegates to get involved in the discussion.

An advantage of hosting a virtual conference this year, was the ability to connect with our international colleagues.  We were joined by some high-profile guests: Phil Honeywood, CEO International Education Association, Australia (IEAA) Bronwyn Gilson, National President ISANA International Education Association and Chris Beard, Executive Director, ISANA New Zealand.  This panel session was fascinating and a wonderful opportunity to discuss how Covid-19 has impacted the international education sector across the world.  It was great to hear from our international colleagues and we hope to make this a regular feature of our future blended conference.

Activity from our #WeAreInternational Student Ambassadors was plentiful across the week, with Melody Sequiera, Claudia Yanez and Reese Chamberlain creating engaging social media content to promote the conference through Twitter and Instagram Stories.  Short selfie-style videos, Tweets, Fleets and Stories were created, which delegates and students could easily view, enabling them to see a snapshot of the conference from a different perspective.  Anna So delivered an engaging speech as part of the conference opening, with Sagar Grewal, presenting on Canadian Students’ Unions and how they differ from the UK's.  Four Student Ambassadors (Mary Wanjohi, JR Candia, Natalia Nassonova and Daniel Haid) shared their thoughts and experiences on UKCISA’s Student Ambassador Programme, with Mary Wanjohi also sharing advice and student insight as part of the Student Fringe session on career success.  A further group of Student Ambassadors (Katie Crabtree, Claudia Yanez, Reese Chamberlain and Umme Sumaiyah) presented and facilitated discussions on the International Student Charter with delegates, with Nebu George and Simran Mahajan taking part in a student Q&A session with UKCISA’s President Lord Bilimoria.  We would like to thank our #WeAreInternational Student Ambassadors for graciously giving up their time to be a part of #UKCISA2021.

For this year’s Annual Conference, we sought to include a variety of social sessions, to bring delegates together and have a little bit of fun.  We did not want our attendees to miss out on the social elements of our Annual Conference, which are valued by all! Across the week, there was a Newcomers Event, Mindfulness Practice (Live Session and On-Demand), Early Morning Yoga, #UKCISA2021 Conference Disco and a fabulous singalong with Sing in the City).  We promise if you missed the latter two, you missed out on some wonderful costumes and some questionable dance moves!

We held two Student Fringe events this year, which were both free of charge and hosted as Facebook Lives.  Our first session, led by Andrew Humphrey broke down how the Graduate Route works; who is eligible; and what new work opportunities it will open.  This session received 543 peak views, a total of 6,100 views and 708 reactions comments and shares.  The second session, ‘UK Study Experience to Career Success: what do you need to do?’ led by Careers Consultant Sarah Cooper, advised on the key employability activities students need to take at each stage of their time in the UK, where to find both advertised and "hidden jobs" and how to make best use of their institution’s Careers Service.  This session had 122 peak views, a total of 2,300 views and 159 reactions comments and shares. Thanks to members for informing students about the sessions, which are both available here: https://www.ukcisa.org.uk/studentnews/1745/Facebook-Live-recordings-

“It’s been a real triumph of a conference! I really wasn't sure what to expect, and I certainly didn't expect to be feeling like I have actually been at conference but that is what you have managed to achieve.  I felt a real pang of emotion at the start that we weren't all together in person, but you have managed to really overcome the complexities and barriers of delivering online to create a conference that felt every bit as special as UKCISA conference always is.  The key notes were excellent, the sessions were interesting and engaging and the social activities went brilliantly!
Lizzie Huckle, UKCISA Board member, Head of International Student Support at Imperial College London.

“Despite being uniquely different to all past UKCISA conferences, was hugely engaging and helpful.  Conference is always a wonderful opportunity to learn, connect, grow, and reflect on my role and this year was no different.  As always there was a plethora of session covering everything from resiliency, running welcome sessions for students, immigration, and mental health interspersed with keynotes across the week.  I have come away with copious notes which is always a good sign!

I was unsure how conference would feel being online, but it retained that classic UKCISA feel.  Everyone was really engaged in the topics that were presented, whether they were run by peers or UKCISA themselves – I am always excited to see the breadth of knowledge and experience everyone has.  I needn’t have worried about the conference being online as the team at UKCISA delivered as always!  It felt nigh-on flawless and the platform made it easy to access. The fact I can review any session for another month is a lifesaver – normally in-person sessions are a “blink and you miss it” experience whereas I am a big fan of this “UKCISA Netflix”!

I would definitely encourage anyone to attend the conference – it doesn’t matter if it’s online or in-person, you’re guaranteed to come away feeling more knowledgeable, more enthused, and ready to take things on.  Thanks UKCISA for a great week!
Robert Young, International Student Adviser at Royal Holloway, University of London.

“The UKCISA conference is a key event in our annual calendar when members come together to share good practice, to learn, to network and to re-charge for the next academic year.  Although online we wanted to create a conference experience.  This is why we included the social activities alongside the training and workshop sessions.  But what made this a success was members joining and engaging with us and each other.  We are proud to support such dedicated, creative and enthusiastic professionals and we are very much looking forward to being able to finally meet face to face in Newcastle in 2022.
Julie Allen, Director of Policy and Services, UKCISA.

All sessions that were recorded (61 out of 63) will be available to watch again, on the Cvent platform until 30 July.  Please do have a browse through some of the sessions you may have missed or would like to watch again.

We cannot wait to host #UKCISA2022, which will be held in Newcastle, between 15-17 June 2022 and are incredibly excited to see you all in person next year!