UKCISA members, practitioners, policymakers and international students came together for UKCISA’s first ever virtual conference which consisted of five days of talks and sessions.
“The role of the UK in providing high quality education, is renowned for our choice and flexibility
Anne Marie Graham, UKCISA’s chief executive, kicked off the conference on Monday saying, “Online or in person, I think we’ll all agree ours is a unique community committed to a positive experience for international students. And that commitment is more important than ever.”
“We are there to ensure, as much as possible, that every student who comes to the UK has a positive experience. And we work very collaboratively towards realising that,” Koen Lamberts, chair of UKCISA’s board, added during the opening plenary.
A key announcement during the conference came on Thursday from the UK’s Minister for Immigration Kevin Foster, the same day that the UK’s new Graduate Route officially opened.
“We are keen to avoid this way a surge of travel in late September, early October”
Foster told delegates that new Covid concessions meant that visa rules around a requirement to be in the UK to study will be extended to 6 April 2022 for the next intake.
“We are keen to avoid this way a surge of travel in late September, early October, not least given a number of our biggest markets for international students, India, Pakistan and I think Nigeria [Nigeria currently on amber travel list] remain on both the UK government and the devolved administrations read lists which would mean to enter managed hotel quarantine on arrival in the UK.”
He added, “Put simply, to use a large amount of capacity in a couple of weeks for that [quarantine] purpose is not something we believe would be an appropriate way forward. For universities to manage the arrival of their own students via that test in those sorts of numbers wouldn’t be particularly helpful either.”
As the UK’s graduate route was rolled out, Sir Steve Smith, the UK’s International Education Champion, highlighted some of the things that he believes sets the UK apart as a destination for international students in a keynote speech.
“The role of the UK in providing high quality education, is renowned for our choice and flexibility. In HE in particular students can choose from 50,000 undergraduate and postgraduate courses. So our flexibility and the quality of the education that we provide is well known and renowned,” he said.
“Secondly I think the world class reputation of research is very significant… It depends on your league table, but we have four universities in the top ten, 17 in the top 100, 29 in the top 200. Also I think that it is important that the UK is seen as a really tolerant multicultural society with a welcoming attitude towards international students.”
“We are trying our best to encourage the universities to talk about the different opportunities we have and also to spread awareness of different programs”
However, speakers in the conference highlighted some of the challenges that the UK international education sector faces. In a session focussed on Brexit panellists spoke about ERASMUS 2021–27, and the potential barriers faced to EU/UK mobility.
Iona Murdoch, president of the Erasmus Student Network UK told delegates that students had to be made aware of the mobility opportunities that exist in the place of Erasmus.
“We are going to start doing a lot of campaigning to spread awareness of what we have,” she said.
“We’ve been going to different countries and trying to spread awareness to all of the local sections that we have in the network. But it’s quite difficult because obviously the big one is Erasmus plus and it’s the name that most people know about.”
Murdoch said that making the most of the other schemes that students have in different areas of the UK will be challenging.
“We are trying our best to encourage the universities to talk about the different opportunities we have and also to spread awareness of different programs that you could maybe even do within your program at universities such as business and finance,” she added.
“We know that accommodation is a concern or an area of challenge for applicants seeking to come to the UK”
The role that tech is likely to play in the UK’s international education sector was also addressed during the conference.
In a session Aaron Powell, chief digital and data officer and managing director at UCAS told delegates about Myriad, UCAS’ new multi-language mobile app to support international students and their agents and advisers apply for postgraduate courses in the UK.
“We know that there are opportunities to provide better information and advice to applicants. We know that applicants sometimes struggle with aspects of the application process, particularly understanding where they can access scholarships and other information,” he said.
“We know that accommodation is a concern or an area of challenge for applicants seeking to come to the UK. And we also know that applicants are particularly keen to understand what employability options there might be for them both after studying but also while they are studying. That is why we have developed the Myriad proposition.”
Powell said that Myriad tries to bring all of those things together as a “one stop shop” platform for international applicants seeking to come to the UK.
He explained that Myriad will have a comprehensive listing of UK postgraduate courses. It will support applicants in matching them to scholarships that they might be eligible for.
It will provide them with the ability to book accommodation, with over 300,000 rooms available within the platform and will also offer routes to jobs and part-time work opportunities.