By Anne Marie Graham, Chief Executive, UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)
At the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), our vision is to ensure that every international student who comes to the UK has a positive experience. We want every international student to be able to tell friends and families that the UK is a welcoming place to study, and live.
Opportunities for International Study
When we drafted our new strategy at the start of this decade, we anticipated a series of opportunities in the years ahead. A new International Education Strategy was to be updated annually, with international student experience at its heart. After years of lobbying sector-wide, we had confirmation of a more competitive post study work offer for international students investing in a UK education, for those completing their degree course in summer 2021 and beyond. And there was the promise of an ambitious new technology to support a streamlined and transparent visa system. We had also launched our We Are International student ambassador programme, to represent international students across the UK in the development of policy.
Further Reforms Needed
Obviously we also acknowledged challenges in our strategy, but we did not foresee a global pandemic that materially changed the way that people move around the world. Once we are out of this crisis, further reform to the immigration system will still need take place in order to ensure that our world-class education system continues to attract students from across the world. And now the UK has left the European Union, the requirements that this new relationship will place on the immigration system will continue to be a challenge for the education sector and its policymakers.
Student Support Amid the Crisis
Many important factors in a positive international student experience have become more prominent during this crisis. Support for mental health and wellbeing, secure and safe accommodation, and clear information about visas and the obligations on students are issues that concern international students all year round but have been emphasised in the last couple of months. It is imperative that the UK continues to be seen as a safe place to come and study, a country that welcomes international students and celebrates their contributions at a local and national level. The UKCISA team has worked alongside our members and partner organisations to ensure we remain the primary source for highly trusted information, advice and guidance on and for international students in the UK through this crisis. We’re witnessing incredible work by those working in student support during these distressing times. This will leave a legacy for future recruitment, as those who have received advice, guidance and support will be able to say, ‘my institution looked after me in a crisis’.
Challenges Post Covid-19
The Covid-19 global pandemic will have a profound impact on international education. Decision-making factors for students and their families will change. As the global economy struggles to recover from the repercussions of the Coronavirus outbreak, post-study work options will continue to be a significant influence on the choice of a study destination. Many international students may not start their 2020/21 academic year in the UK, but in their home country, studying online. We all need to work together – UKCISA alongside policymakers and member institutions – to ensure that wherever that experience is, it remains world class.