On 15 June 2022, UKCISA launched the UK’s first international student charter as part of the opening day of their annual conference in Newcastle. A key tenet of the charter is to raise awareness of the UK as an international student’s “home from home.”
Over 85 UK higher education institutions sent representatives to pledge their support for providing a world-class student experience and meeting the expectations of international applicants from pre-arrival to graduation. The charter, which builds on the successful #WeAreInternational campaign, was written by a team of student ambassadors who shared their perspectives on what the international student experience should be like. UKCISA facilitated dialogue between students and industry stakeholders to ensure that the final document reflected a wide range of needs and perspectives.
The charter, which was written by students on the organization’s #WeAreInternational ambassador scheme, has a broader holistic focus on the entire study abroad experience. Its goal is to achieve social, academic, and employability equality with domestic students. Employer engagement and mental health support are two other charter themes. Notably, additional concessions have been requested for students studying online from different time zones.
Lord Karan Bilimoria, CBE DL, and President of UKCISA said that as a former international student, he understands the importance of valuating the student’s voice. He is proud that the student charter is led by students, with significant contributions from educators across the board.
Katie Crabtree, a PhD student from the University of Leeds in the UK contributed to the charter and spoke about the deliberation that went into the final wording.
“We were very deliberate in what we wanted to say. We felt that rather than discussing logistics or housing, the phrase “making a home in the UK” was an important signifier that we [as students] are not just passing through; this is a really important time in our lives, and this is our chosen home away from home.” She even explained that it’s not just about someone coming to consume a British education; it’s about genuine intercultural communication and experience sharing.
The UK government recently provided an update on their international education strategy, announcing that they had met their 2030 target ahead of schedule, and there are growing calls in the sector for a future emphasis on sustainable growth and academic integrity rather than recruitment targets.
Students involved in the charter’s development identified five key principles that HEIs should strive for in order to improve the student experience: inclusivity, collaboration, sustainability, enhanced support, and targeted support.
“The #WeAreInternational Student Charter establishes the most important principles for the international education sector to focus on,” said Professor Koen Lamberts, Chair of the UKCISA Board. It captures the priorities that UK universities should prioritize in their strategies, and I hope that colleagues across the sector will support it.”
UKCISA also announced the launch of a grants program for members and students to help with the delivery of this work.
One clear goal stated is to incorporate environmental sustainability as a core value in institutions’ internationalisation strategies – a clear indicator that while students value the opportunity to study abroad, environmental impact remains a major concern. By design, the charter is only available as a paperless digital download.
“Providers should design strategies to address the climate crisis, involving international students as stakeholders in the decision-making process, and considering sustainable alternatives to any policies and practices that have potential negative environmental impacts,” according to advice for institutions. It also includes targeted support for international students’ additional specific needs, such as visa and immigration rules, cultural differences in academic standards, pedagogy, and assessments. There is also a discussion of issues such as culture shock and employment barriers caused by a lack of industry understanding of work visas.
Natalja Nassonova, an Estonian student who served as the charter’s coordinator, expressed her joy at finally allowing the sector to see the document after all of her efforts. “I’m really interested in hearing what people truly think about the charter,” she said. “We have spent a long time focusing on the consultation process, gathering feedback from students across the UK, industry experts, and UKCISA members to ensure it is relevant.” “It’s really exciting to feel people connect with the final document.” “It will be an evolving process that we will revisit with each new cohort of students,” Nassonova added.
Lynsey Bendon, Assistant Director of Operations and Student Experience at the University of Sunderland in London, told The PIE that it was “fabulous to see what our international students do.” “I believe that as higher education professionals, we are all inspired by their stories and by this student charter.” “It gives us a goal to strive for.” “I think many universities will discover that they are already doing a lot of it, but it’s really nice to be able to record that and reflect that for the international students we have and the international students who will come (in the future),” she said.
The three-day UKCISA annual conference continues with sessions on visa compliance and risk management, student refugees, immigration issues, reimagining career support, global citizenship, and international law. The conference drew professionals from international student support teams who were delighted to be reunited after a three-year hiatus to share best practices.
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