The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) is a Lead Advisor for International Student Success, our new project bringing together subject experts, higher education professionals, and international students to develop a comprehensive online programme that will equip international students with the knowledge, skills, and understanding that are central to preparing for, and adjusting to, university life. We asked UKCISA’s Chief Executive, Anne Marie Graham, and Director of Policy and Services, Julie Allen, to explain how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the international student experience, what additional support international students are needing as a result, and why the development of International Student Success is so timely.
Can you tell us a bit about UKCISA?
UKCISA is the UK’s national advisory body supporting international students in the UK. We do this by providing information and guidance on our website and advice line. We also provide detailed advice, guidance and training to our members who advise students directly. All public universities in the UK are members as well as over 100 Student Unions and internationally active Further Education colleges.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the international student experience so far?
While students can still study online and, where possible, learn face to face in small groups, we know that this is not the full experience that students might have hoped for when they chose to come to the UK. Staff are working really hard to support students with their learning and wellbeing but we know from talking to our student ambassadors that it can take greater effort to stay motivated to get the most out of online learning.
Currently students are unable to attend large group events in person or travel freely around the UK and that is an important part of the UK experience. But Student Unions are finding innovative ways for students to connect and form communities to make the most of the technology that we have.
What are UKCISA’s main priorities for international students this year?
In terms of priorities, our primary focus is to make sure that the new immigration system is transparent and fair for international students and that we provide support for their sponsoring institutions and information and advice directly to the students themselves.
We also want to make sure that the voice of international students is heard, and feedback acted upon – our International Student Ambassadors help provide a window to this. We also want to work with partners such as the British Council to better understand the international student experience and how it has been affected by the pandemic, the new immigration system, etc.
Also in this year, we’re working with government on the introduction of the new Graduate Route which will open in 2021 and allow students to stay in the UK to work after their studies. We’re also working to support projects that look to enhance the employability of international students in UK education.
Currently, which issues do international students seem to need the most additional support with?
Our expertise is in the student immigration rules and the rules around tuition fees and student support. At the moment, students need advice on both topics. EU students need to understand how Brexit will impact on them.
Why is a resource like International Student Success so important for institutions to develop now?
UKCISA supported a previous platform called ‘Prepare for Success’ which is now archived. It was developed over ten years ago and the technology has become incredibly more sophisticated since then so the timing of this new project, International Student Success is perfect. It’s important to give students the opportunity to prepare for their studies in the UK before they arrive to help them adapt more easily and to really make the most of their time when they get here.
What will your role as Lead Advisor for the programme entail?
We recently invited UKCISA members to apply to create content for the online modules. This was a way for us to offer an exciting opportunity for our members while bringing sector expertise to the project. We’ll also be involved in the workshops next year to develop the content, we’ll help review the content and then we are very much looking forward to helping launch the programme.
What key concepts and challenges will be covered in the International Student Success programme?
The programme will support students to prepare for student life in the UK. This will touch on visas, accommodation, finances, work, staying safe. The second module on Culture and expectations will cover culture shock and the culture of education in the UK as well as UK social customs. The third module will examine communication, helping to build students’ confidence in communicating effectively both inside and outside the classroom. The final module will help students to look after their wellbeing during their time in the UK.
What do you see as the key benefits for institutions collaborating with us on the development of International Student Success?
The online programme will cover key topics that all students need to navigate when they come to the UK, so International Student Success will provide a really useful central resource for institutions to direct their students to, meaning students will be more aware and more prepared for their time in the UK.
Register for our upcoming webinar with UKCISA
Join us on Thursday 10 December at 11.00am GMT for a live webinar with UKCISA’s Director of Policy and Services, Julie Allen, and Epigeum’s Senior Commissioning Editor, Naomi Wilkinson. Julie will be discussing the importance of working collaboratively with international students, organisations, and institutions to best support international students in the UK. Naomi will also give an introduction to International Student Success, covering how institutions can join us to collaborate on the development of the programme.