I’ve had the honour of representing the University of Surrey at the first International Student Forum held by UKCISA in London earlier this month.
UKCISA (pronounced you-key-sa) is UK Council for International Student Affairs. They are a charity that is actively involved in improving International Student experience by working with the students and the universities, Student Unions (SUs) and others that work with them. The event marked the start of international education week in the UK and the international student day on the 17 Nov. Students from 45 universities, colleges and specialist institutions attended the event. They shared their experiences and actively participated in discussions that could help better student experiences. The idea behind this event was for UKCISA to hear from the international students directly.
I met some wonderful well-informed, pro-active and passionate students who were very keen not only to share their stories but also to reflect on it to see how they can make a difference. Many students across the different sessions throughout the day shared their experiences, expertise, observations and recommendations that could improve international student experiences in the UK. Some of the discussions and information shared has left me feeling informed and empowered to drive any change necessary to improve student life here. But more importantly, feeling valued for who I am, what I have to offer, and what more I can do here in the UK. Contrary to our common belief, international students were celebrated by everybody for bringing in the diversity, culture and perspectives, therefore internationalising the universities, communities and ultimately the country.
Throughout the day, we had interesting discussions such as international orientations and welcome week – how universities can welcome students better and facilitate their interactions with home students and student from other faculties. It is very important that international students are well supported at universities away from home. Our university has a very active centre for well-being helping all students with a variety of issues. Expert Self Care app, distrACT, Student minds are some of the other places to get help from with mental health. And also around the very important, often talked about, post-graduation visas and employability. Recent graduates who’ve secured jobs in the UK spoke to us about their experiences of landing a job in the UK and some of the issues faced. We had interesting discussions on how the career team at universities must be familiarised with the job markets outside of the UK to help with student’s employability. We were also introduced to Student circus by its co-founder. It is a website developed by students that helps students find relevant jobs in the UK.
There were sessions focussing on building a strong student community by engaging with the local people and the Student Unions, and also by exploring immigration policies. We discussed volunteering activities and community engagements and the barriers associated with them in depth. And how it can break some of the stereotypes and facilitate conversations with local people that help reduce differences between each other. It also gives an insight into the world outside of the university and students gain many skills such as work ethics and improve communications. I never volunteered in my master’s year. I felt I would enjoy doing more one on one activities with the local community. For e.g., I spent a weekend at a Lady’s in London under the HOST programme.
We also looked at improving student experiences by understanding student representations, International Education Strategy and Political Engagements. The session on political engagements was really informative. We, as international students, have very less knowledge of politics in the UK and generally poor political engagements. We discussed voting rights, being represented, meeting the MPs at drop-in sessions, getting more involved with agencies and charities like UKCISA. We were introduced to some of the organisations and contact points that could facilitate political engagements for international students, like APPG for international students (All-Party Parliamentary Groups), Migrants’ Rights Network, MPs (Member of parliament), The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
Rules on study and work visas for immigrants have changed constantly over the last decade – meaning the government is experimenting of sorts with the best way to handle immigration ‘problems’. This also means that it is possible for the laws that don’t favour international students to get jobs in the UK to change again. But this would require more political engagements from the students.
The main event was followed by an evening reception at the British Library where were had talks summarising and concluding the one-day event.
I made some friends from across the country, all passionate to help other international students have a great experience here in the UK. I would highly recommend getting more involved with UKCISA directly or indirectly. They also launched a new Student Ambassador programme. Some more on the event:
And more pictures!
And a quick video on the event:
Hope this was interesting to you as well!