Editorial note: Congratulations to our Membership team and all the staff at UKCISA for being awarded as co-winners for Membership organisation of the year at the PIEoneer awards!
Continuing our series of UKCISA staff interviews in celebration of our recognition at the upcoming PIEoneer Awards, our Director of Member Services & Policy, Julie Allen, discusses our nomination for Membership organisation of the year. In addition to our recognition from the PIE, we are delighted to have also been nominated for Best in person event of the year at the 2023 Memcom Excellence Awards for UKCISA Annual conference 2022.
Read on for Julie’s reflections on both nominations, as well as her thoughts on her time at UKCISA, which will sadly be coming to an end in October.
How does it feel to be nominated for these awards?
It feels hugely important. UKCISA exists to ensure that international students have the best possible experience in the UK, but much of how we aim to achieve this is through our network of incredible members.
How do you feel these nominations reflect on the work that UKCISA does?
We strive to provide the highest quality advice, guidance, policy work, training and events, and we consider the needs and views of international students and members in everything we do. To be shortlisted for such prestigious awards feels like recognition of the hard work of all the staff at UKCISA and our network of members and partners across the education sector.
Have there been any significant changes within the last year in the work of the Member Services and Policy team? Have these been challenging? Rewarding?
Member Services and Policy is an incredibly committed team. Will Burton, known to many of our members, is our Events and Training Co-Ordinator, and Dan Hooper and So-Ha Au support our membership with amazing attention to detail. We welcomed three fantastic new members to the team in 2022; Oscar Triggs, Iona Murdoch, and Vinicius Campus. Oscar is our Website Project Officer who is leading the very complex development of the UKCISA website, members will see the outputs of his sleepless nights in 2024! Iona is our Policy Officer who has added a whole other level of capacity, expertise and energy to UKCISA’s policy work, including our very first annual policy review - hopefully members will have read our latest edition. For most of 2022 we had the delight of working with Vinicius, our Policy Intern and international student from Brazil, whose insights as a master's student in policy were invaluable. We also re-launched the UKCISA Grants scheme and are now funding eight projects and research supporting the #WeAreInternational Student Charter. Members will learn about the outcomes in spring and summer 2024. It has been challenging and it has been rewarding – these things go together!
UKCISA Annual conference is the organisation’s flagship event. What does it mean to you and UKCISA staff to be recognised by Memcom?
I am so proud to be nominated for this award, as I know that annual conferences are a key event for most membership organisations. The planning and delivery of UKCISA Annual conference is a huge project for everyone at UKCISA but particularly for Will and me who think about it all year round. 2022 marked several firsts – the first in-person conference since Covid, the first time that we had delivered the conference without the support of external conference organisers, and the first time our #WeAreInternational Student Ambassadors joined us. Thanks to the hard work of our Head of Engagement and Partnerships, Yinbo Yu, we had much greater interest from sponsors and exhibitors in 2022 which helped us keep our costs down for members. We also launched our #WeAreInternational Student Charter at an evening reception in the beautiful and historic Discovery Museum in Newcastle. It was a huge effort, but seeing members come together again was truly rewarding.
You’ve been working for UKCISA for over nine years now, how has the work of the Member Services and Policy team changed in your time here?
It has changed a lot! There have been staff changes and new roles brought in to support the members, we previously led on communications and now that is a separate function at UKCISA. We brought in a new CRM which changed how we work with members, and we hope members will continue to see improved processes as we develop more functionality. We are on our third major website project, and as noted above our policy work has a much higher profile and is much more visible across the sector. We started in-person member events in addition to the national training programme, then we moved them online, and then we went back to in-person following the Covid-19 pandemic. We started to run the annual conference by ourselves. We established a grants scheme and have funded over 60 members’ projects and research. And the great thing is that the team is still changing, evolving and developing.
As a member-focused organisation, what have been your key takeaways from your time as UKCISA’s Director of the Member Services and Policy?
I have attended many external membership meetings, training and events in my time at UKCISA and I have learned that not every organisation has a network like UKCISA’s. I am incredibly proud to have been able to support the work of the committed, dedicated, hardworking and caring members of our network that have made my time here so fulfilling. My key takeaways, therefore, are fun memories and life-long friendships.