In March I wrote extensively about the amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill – which would essentially take international students out of the net migration target – and by the time you read this we will know whether or not this has been accepted by the government, whether a compromise will have been reached or whether it will have fallen at the final hurdle.
Many have spoken and written extensively on the subject and I would just add that in a comment I gave to the press last week I said that:
‘Any decision to take international students - not out of the statistics but - out of the drive to cut net migration would obviously be hugely welcomed and would send a powerful signal both in the UK and around the world that we really do want to welcome all those who can benefit from a great British education. However it would only be a first step and we would look to see any decision on this followed by a thorough examination of the rules and processes to see how they could be simplified and made more attractive for many more students after so many years of increasing obstacles, complexity and confusion.’
And that continues to be our position.
Apart from that though Westminster is now grinding to a halt, having moved into ‘purdah’ and all new policy discussions put on hold. So a meeting of the Home Office’s Education Sector Forum Policy group, scheduled for 12 May has been cancelled, as has another Home Office meeting to discuss ‘new digital solutions at ports of entry’, as has a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Students planned for next Tuesday (2 May).
The Home Office has also, as you will have seen, been undertaking a review of the Short Term Student visa route – and we will this week be submitting some data and commentary that you have given us – but presumably we will hear little or no more about this either………. at least until after the election.
Thank goodness though a decision was made and announced just before purdah started to confirm that EU students, starting courses in in FE or HE in England in 18/19, would continue to be eligible for home fees and loans – as had earlier been announced for those studying in Scotland. That is an important announcement and one which we should make much of.
Clearly the Education Select Committee’s report on ‘Exiting the EU’, which calls for this to be urgently confirmed, had gone to press before that was announced but when it came out this week it was great to see some excellent recommendations not only on this but also very substantial support for Erasmus + (or a replacement) and , once again, on students and net migration
UKCISA’s Annual Conference
Once we all come up for air, however, after the election, our annual conference (28-30 June) will find itself (yet again!) perfectly timed to reflect on the results and the implications both of a new government and any new domestic policies and of course the continuing debates about Brexit implications for all of us and all of our current and future students – both UK and international.
So I do hope that as many as possible will be able to attend this year.
- As you will have seen we will start off again with an introductory/welcome session for all newcomers which is a great opportunity to find out more about UKCISA and the conference and to meet a few like minded folk to team up with.
- The main event will start with what are always stimulating and incisive comments from our President, Lord Bilimoria, who has been such an active advocate for us over the last year and will bring immediate insights and perspectives on post-election Westminster and the political scene.
- Later that afternoon, Sir Steve Smith, VC of Exeter and a former President of Universities UK will speak on the challenges for institutions who prioritise international student issues, some of the things the UK does extremely well and some which require further investment and attention.
- We then have an additional ‘open house’ plenary on the Thursday to enable us to consider together concerns we have in continuing to reassure, welcome and support EU students in the future.
- Our final plenary is, of course, very fittingly and again perfectly timed, by senior Home Office colleagues on how they see current processes developing or new policy approaches being considered.
All of that will cover pretty comprehensively the main policy issues but of course our conference is not just about policy – which not all of us can influence all of the time. But also essentially about practical practitioner issues where all of us can really help to make a difference to the missions of our institutions, both HE and FE, and to the lives of our students.
- Using social media, advising on careers, extra-curricular activities, resolving complaints, crisis intervention, multiple sessions on compliance, family support, FE best practice, volunteering, counselling and wellbeing, integration and inclusion – to name but a few!! (With many thanks to all those members who have volunteered to deliver such a wide range of sessions).
- Plus all the usual sessions from the UKCISA team on various aspects of the rules and regulations.
I tend to attend quite a few conferences but I can honestly say that I know of no other conference which packs into two and a half days so much practical guidance and training in such an intensive period - and so if any manager perhaps questions whether it is value for money for you and your colleagues to attend this year, you might just remind them what this event delivers!
We will though also have some time to relax, reflect, make contacts and exchange ideas both formally and informally and I am delighted that we are being so very well supported this year by a larger than usual range of sponsors.
- Validate ID, who provide document scanning services to numbers of universities, are our premier sponsor this year.
- INTO, the pathway provider who have a very substantial relationship with amongst many others, Exeter University, will be sponsoring our opening plenary.
- IELTS (who need no introduction) will be sponsoring our lanyards and
- IDP, the global recruitment agency, will be sponsoring our Conference Dinner.
Plus AISA, ICN, PIE News and the THE and many other supporters.
All of these help us to deliver what looks like being a bumper conference this year, we are extremely grateful to them all – and to the various others who will also be exhibiting – and we hope you will have time to talk to many of them.
Bookings are of course now open and registrations coming in thick and fast ……..so do please register as soon as you can – and especially so that you can opt, whilst space is left, for those parallel sessions which you would most like to attend.
Other conferences and events
Finally, just to mention a few other events.
- I attended a couple of weeks ago the Hotcourses ‘WhatUni’ student choice awards and was delighted to be invited to present the award for ‘Best Student Support’ which went to Harper Adams University (who were in fact also awarded ‘University of the Year’) and to see the many others who got other awards in other categories. It was also interesting to note that, according to the student voting, the areas which had seen most improvement over the last year were ‘Job Prospects’, ‘Clubs and Societies’ and ‘Students Unions’.
- I will in fact also be chairing a session with Hotcourses, IDP and StudyPortals at the British Council’s huge Going Global conference in the middle of May - where all three will be outlining from their latest research on what decision-making factors are of most importance to students from a range of global cities.
- Universities UK are holding their next International Student Experience conference on 15 June and
- UKCISA’s own ‘Stop Press: recent changes and issues’ courses kick off on 5 May in Manchester – followed by similar events in Edinburgh (11 May), Birmingham (18 May) and London (24 May) - with a final few spaces still available.
So for numbers of reasons and in numbers of ways, UKCISA agenda-type issues are going to be very prominently on the radar over the next couple of months and, once some of the dust has settled, we all here much look forward to discussing and debating them all with you – in Devon at the end of June!
Dominic Scott, Chief Executive, UKCISA