Daniel Tasker graduated from the PG Cert in International Student Advice and Support in 2017. He talked to UKCISA about his experience and what he has gained from the course. He offers an insight into what it’s like to study and work full-time and advice for members thinking of applying (‘Go for it!’) (There is still time to apply for for entry in 2017 - see the link at the end of the blog!)
Daniel worked in a student support roles for 10 years at the universities of Huddersfield, Leicester, Westminster and has now been at the Royal College of Art (RCA) for four years. He had always worked with international students but was keen to learn more about the specialist area.
While he was doing the course he was Student Adviser for Finance and Scholarships and on the back of the PG Cert he got promoted to Student Advice and Funding Manager. In his new role he manages the international student adviser, disability and financial support. Without the course, he says, he wouldn’t have had the insight into all three elements and he wouldn’t have got the job.
What attracted you to the PG Cert ISAS?
I thought it was the ideal way to boost my knowledge in the area of international education for my current job and for my future career. On a personal note, I had started an undergraduate course at the University of Nottingham and dropped out so in some ways it was a matter of unfinished business!
What had you studied prior to the PG Cert ISAS?
I did a BA at Keele University in Politics and American Studies
What did you hope to get out of the course?
I wanted to build on what I was already interested in and expand on that. I suspected there were very specific skills to working in international student advice and I knew I had a lot to learn. I also saw it as an opportunity to build on networks professionally and meet people in similar and related roles.
Which module did you get the most out of and why?
The first module on cross-cultural communication was very important in a practical sense. For example, it allowed me to reflect on some of the college’s messaging on hardship funds. We weren't receiving many applications from international students but when I was able to view this from the perspective of students from different cultures I could see how our messages might be received and it helped us to re-evaluate. One thing we did was to be much more explicit about what we mean by ‘confidential’ advice. We’ve seen an increasing number of students using the service because of the extra re-assurance on confidentiality.
The third module on legal and ethical frameworks was perhaps the most challenging (especially when it came to writing the essay) but on reflection it was possibly the most interesting module. We looked at what you do when a student discloses information to you that could risk their visa status together with the responsibility of Tier 4 sponsors to report breaches of the student immigration rules to the Home Office. We explored where the responsibility lies and the ethical dilemmas. So what I mean is that the module highlighted everyday dilemmas. I was not and still don’t work directly in immigration advice but this really helped me to be able to support other colleagues who do.
How did you fit study in with your full time work?
It was a challenge - they don’t just give away the qualification – you need to work for it! But I feel that if it was easy, and you could just slot it into your spare time, it wouldn’t be so valuable. So it was a challenge.
I was fortunate that the RCA was very enabling and let me have the four Fridays off to attend the course without having to take annual leave. They were also very good around essay deadlines and I was able to use the college library. It was an interesting experience to put myself in student shoes at my own institution.
For personal reasons I had to ask for an extension in the summer and this was possible - the tutors at Nottingham were very patient with me. So I managed the study through a combination of generosity of goodwill from my own institution and from Nottingham.
How has the course benefited you?
I got promoted! I wouldn’t be doing my job today if I hadn’t done the course. But that’s not all – I built up a good network of people that I can speak to if there’s an issue I’d like to discuss - to get a second opinion for example. I also got an insight into the type of jobs that exist in international education – it opened my eyes to future possibilities. I know quite a few of us have moved jobs since the course.
What were the benefits to your institution?
The RCA is growing rapidly and requires rapid processes to design policy and write work systems that fit a new reality. The insight into the dilemmas that international students face and the particular challenges for students from certain cultures has been important for us to understand.
We are working hard on integration. We are building a coherent internationalisation strategy that focuses not just on recruitment but also on retention, experience, and acculturation. What we are trying to do is bring areas of good practice together and encourage people to work together. The course has enabled me to add to the College's strategy for improving the international student experience. The insight I gained from the course has been useful for me and I am better able to support the International Student Adviser and their priorities.
The RCA partially funded my course. I think this shows that they valued the learning and that they value the importance of supporting international students as a whole.
Do you have any advice for members considering taking the PG Cert?
Go for it! It’s been a really valuable experience for me both professionally and personally. You can apply the learning to your professional life but it’s also a personal challenge that you can be proud of.
It’s more fun than it looks! The structure of the course works really well across the four weekends. On paper I think it looks daunting but the weekends are fun – lots of interaction with other students and there are different tutors. Because it’s so different from the day to day it really doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s inclusive. As it’s residential we stayed at hotels but there are cheap rates for Nottingham students. This means there is a good social side to the course and I’ve built lasting friendships.
I would also say that it’s useful to think about the course not just in terms of helping you to be better at your current job but in terms of your future career. If you are ambitious, having the PG Cert will stand out on job applications. But also the world of international student support is difficult to get into and the course is also a route in. It could give you a foot in the door.
Are there any reasons not to take the course?
Don’t do it because your workplace wants you to. You have to bring your own personal experience to the course and be able to share it with other students. You need to be enthusiastic about the subject matter; you need to embrace that.
There is still time to apply to start the PG Cert in November 2017 - deadline 10 October 2017. For details of the course and how to apply go to the University of Nottingham website (Please note that the Nottingham website lists 19 October as the application deadline but you are advised to apply by 10 October to ensure sufficient time to process - and if are applying with non-standard qualifications - apply asap!)