UKCISA Fest 2023

Blog for students
23 November 2023
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Last Wednesday, we welcomed international students from across the UK to UKCISA Fest 2023 for a day of talks and workshops at International Students House (ISH) in London. Delegates heard from guest speakers and gained valuable knowledge and skills, while also sharing their own experiences with one another, helping to inform and shape policy relating to international students in the UK.   

UKCISA President Lord Karan Bilimoria delivered the opening remarks by sharing the story of how he came to the UK as an international student from India. He went on to talk about his own unexpected journey from an accountancy and law student to an entrepreneur, imparting encouraging words to the many budding entrepreneurs in attendance, saying that in order to succeed, one must be “humbitious – humble and ambitious”, understand that “the learning never stops,” and have the right attitude to succeed – “have the will rather than the skill”. He even talked about his time living at ISH during his seven years as a student. 

Our opening plenary was chaired by #WeAreInternational Student Ambassador and Co-Chair of UKCISA’s Student advisory group, Lindsay Nygren, and featured a panel of her fellow student ambassadors Adityavarman Mehta, Diana Catana, and Annie Chan. They all shared insights and reflections on how the international student voice can be included in policy development and spoke about their difficulties upon arriving in the UK. Aditya found himself taking a long time to settle in with regards to sorting accommodation and banking, Diana struggled with leaving her family, friends and community as she moved to a new country, and Annie faced difficulties in socialising and making conversation with native English speakers.  

In one of our first workshops of the day, UKCISA Policy Officer Iona Murdoch and Advice & Training Officer Deepa Chadha ran an introductory session on policy. The session focused on what policy is, and offered students the chance to sharpen their knowledge and skills by unpacking how and why policy can be scrutinised and shaped. In a separate session, Jim Dickinson from Wonkhe looked at some of the issues and topics that had come up in the opening plenary as he examined how the international student voice is considered within university structures. Jim then discussed how international students can use a data and evidence-based approach to influence decision-making, while combining it with their own first-hand experiences.  

Over an extended lunch break, students were able to spend valuable time networking with one another ahead of the afternoon’s sessions. Jim Dickinson led another session on the value of storytelling in both public speaking and lobbying, testing students on their abilities to connect emotionally with an audience, and offering them tips on how to captivate an audience. Simultaneously, University Alliance Head of Communications and External Affairs Annie Bell ran a workshop analysing stakeholder relationships for international students, such as those with university administrators, faculty members, fellow students, and potential employers, and how to best navigate these to ensure a quality experience in the UK.  

Delegates then reconvened for our closing plenary, chaired by #WeAreInternational Student Ambassador, Vartika Khandelwal, and featured a panel comprised of UKCISA Chief Executive Anne Marie Graham and Policy Officer Iona Murdoch. This final session for the day focused on the topical issue for international students of finding a job. After Vartika shared her own personal experiences of the current job market in the UK for international students, Iona led students into a practical brainstorming session where they discussed the current 20 hour work limit imposed on international students and debated whether this should be changed, and, if so, what it should be changed to and to consider the advantages and disadvantages of their group’s decision. This led to a lengthy and insightful discussion in the room, which allowed students to apply their newly learnt skills to engage, connect and reflect with one another on their shared experiences. Students from each team enthusiastically shared their group’s work, and it was clear that many had identified similar solutions and potential issues and were keen to bring their ideas to the wider group. 

As the day drew to a close, we were joined by UKCISA members for our annual reception to mark International Students Day, celebrating values and contributions of international students in the UK, and celebrating UKCISA and our member’s and partner's work. We heard from BUILA Chair Catriona McCarthy, who promised the students in attendance that they “can be absolutely reassured that UKCISA has your back,” and that the organisation serves as their “collective voice." #WeAreInternational Student Ambassador Loan Thu Nguyen then shared some of her experiences of studying in the UK, getting to grips with the language, and the kindness of strangers who had supported her on her journey. 

We’d like to extend a huge thank you to all our delegates and speakers, as well as our event partners, Duolingo English Test, British Council: Study UK and BUILA, who helped make UKCISA Fest 2023 a resounding success.  

You can view the highlights of UKCISA Fest and Annual reception 2023 in our photo gallery.