In February and March 2023, we hosted member events in Manchester and London, bringing together over 100 practitioners from across our membership to discuss challenges and opportunities, share best practice and hear about our work in supporting members and international students in the UK.
Returning for the first time after the pandemic, the member events were reimagined to provide space for new members to learn about the sector and network with those in similar roles. As there is always a lot to learn about sector challenges and ongoing global crises, all members, regardless of experience, were encouraged to attend and provide their own perspectives.
Because each region faces its own unique challenges, our programme differs at each event depending on the needs of our members, while also focusing on the principles of the #WeAreInternational Student Charter. Join us in Glasgow next week where we’ll hear from colleagues and experts at Universities Scotland, Scottish Government, and universities across Scotland.
Recently, Manchester has increased in popularity as one of the top international student destinations in the UK. This multicultural city holds ten higher education institutions, and the University of Manchester hosts the second largest cohort of international students in the UK.
In the morning panel session, which looked at challenges and opportunities in the region, speakers explored what attracts international students to Manchester. In addition to its international airport, which connects Manchester to global destinations, Greater Manchester has its own international strategy, with two of the five priorities relating to international students.
In the afternoon, the University of Sheffield delivered a presentation on their Global Campus programme, focusing on the #WeAreInternational Student Charter principle of making targeted support available for international students making a home in the UK.
Institutions work hard to support these students and create an environment that feels like a family. They use innovative thinking to combat commonly faced challenges such as fraud, the cost of living, and emerging global crises, and students are often at the core of developing support systems. However, some challenges are harder to solve: despite the pressure for more student accommodation, the industrial city has other stakeholders creating bases in Manchester, so the city must balance its priorities.
Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International, offered his own perspectives on challenges and opportunities for international students in the UK. After touching upon the resilience of the sector in the face of global crises, he pointed to recent Public First polling commissioned by Universities UK which indicated that, overall, the UK public feel positively about international students and immigration. He then went on to discuss the upcoming general election and sector positioning. Jamie Arrowsmith stated that the sector must focus on the ‘four Cs’, including:
- the economic and social contribution of international students
- global competitiveness as a sector
- inspiring confidence to acknowledge the benefits international students bring to the UK
- capability of the sector to support the experience and recruitment of international students
Members at the event continuously highlighted these ‘four Cs’ in conversation for the rest of the day, both in sharing best practice and in conversation during networking opportunities.
Later in the day, Sheffield Hallam University shared their findings from a pilot project on house hunting grants which supports international students with children to find accommodation, focusing on the #WeAreInternational Student Charter principle on how to create a welcoming, inclusive, and equitable environment for international students in the UK.
“It was great to see people in person again. I really enjoyed the discussions on our table. The grant scheme presentation from Sheffield Hallam was really thought-provoking and interesting.” – UKCISA member
#WeAreInternational Student Ambassador panel
All member events feature a panel discussion with our #WeAreInternational Student Ambassadors, focusing on themes found within the #WeAreInternational Student Charter, such as employability, accommodation and collaborating with different teams across institutions. Both panels discussed similar issues to those highlighted by practitioners within these areas in the challenges and opportunities discussions.
Diversity and inclusion were highlighted as central aspects of community building. Student ambassadors at both events struggled with the divide between international students and domestic students. Part of this was due to students and staff treating international students as a homogeneous group – not individuals with diverse perspectives and needs. They reflected that institutions must work harder to bring international and domestic students closer together and suggested that institutions encourage domestic students to attend cultural events.
Further suggestions for improvement focused on supporting operational processes and spreading awareness to landlords regarding biometric residence permits and vignettes, to employers about the Graduate route, and to staff and domestic students at higher education institutions concerning cultural differences and the harmful nature of stereotyping.
One of the key takeaways from the session in London was the importance of putting a face to information and support. Although many students rely on technology and social media, there is a noticeable gap in the social media presence and relatability of many institutions. Pannya Rajput, a #WeAreInternational Student Ambassador, relied on vlogs by fellow international students to understand cultural differences regarding living and studying in the UK. The London session found that younger generations primarily look to social media for information.
The London panel also found that encouraging domestic students and staff to talk to international students in person helps them to understand issues faced by international students, as well as break down the view of international students as a homogeneous group. Although challenges are dealt with at a high level, students must be spoken to and heard for effective policymaking and real change. It was suggested that putting students at the heart of policymaking would not only help resolve challenges more effectively, but also provide foresight into potential future issues.
Moving forward: Glasgow
We will be hosting our third and final member event on 11 May at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. This event is perfect for newer members as well as experienced practitioners looking to share or hear best practice surrounding current sector challenges. We’ll hear from the Scottish Government and explore current topics such as international student employability and the challenges of providing accommodation to international students. We know how much members miss being in a room together, so this event will also provide plenty of opportunities to form new connections and network with colleagues.
The next member event is in Glasgow on 11 May, open to all UKCISA members. Find out more and book your place.