Representatives from over 85 UK higher education institutions gathered together, pledging their support to providing a world-class student experience and meeting the expectations of overseas applicants from pre-arrival to graduation.
Building on the successful #WeAreInternational campaign, the charter has been written by a team of student ambassadors who shared their views on what the international student experience should look like. UKCISA facilitated dialogue between students and stakeholders industry-wide to ensure a full range of needs and perspectives were reflected in the final document.
“As a former international student, I understand the importance of valuing the student voice. I’m proud that this student charter is led by students, with significant contributions from across the education sector,” Lord Karan Bilimoria, CBE DL and UKCISA President, told delegates.
Katie Crabtree, a US student pursuing a PhD at the University of Leeds, who contributed to the charter, spoke about the deliberation that went into the final wording.
“We were really intentional in what we wanted to say. We felt the phrase ‘making a home in the UK’ rather than talking about logistics or accommodation, 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 from home.
“It’s not just about someone coming to consume a British education, it is about true intercultural communication and sharing of experience,” she explained.
“This student charter is led by students, with significant contributions from across the education sector”
Written by students on the organisation’s #WeAreInternational ambassador scheme, the charter has a broader holistic focus on the full study abroad experience. It aims to achieve a sense of equality with domestic students across social, academic and employability measures. Other themes in the charter include employer engagement and mental health support.
Notably, there are also additional concessions requested for students studying online from different time zones.
The UK government recently provided a progress update on their international education strategy having met their 2030 target ahead of schedule, and there are growing calls in the sector for future emphasis on sustainable growth and academic integrity, rather than recruitment targets.
The students involved in defining the charter identified five key principles that HEIs should work towards to enhance the student experience: inclusivity, collaboration, sustainability, enhanced support and targeted support.
Professor Koen Lamberts, Chair of UKCISA Board said: “The #WeAreInternational Student Charter sets out the most important principles for the international education sector to focus on. It captures what UK universities should prioritise in their strategies, and I hope that colleagues across the sector will support it.”
UKCISA also announced they will be launching a grants programme for members and students to support delivery of this work.
One clear aim outlined is to integrate environmental sustainability as a core value in institutions’ internationalisation strategies – a clear indicator that while students value the chance to study abroad, environmental impact is still high on their concerns. The charter itself is only available as a paper-free digital download by design.
Advice for institutions states that “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 impacts on the environment.”
It also includes targeted support that addresses the additional specific needs of international students, including visa and immigration rules, cultural differences in academic standards, pedagogy and assessments, wellbeing issues related to culture shock and barriers to employment due to a lack of understanding from the industry about work visas.
Natalja Nassonova, an Estonian student who acted as the charter lead, expressed her pride at finally letting the sector see the document after all the hard work, saying: “I’m really excited to know what people genuinely think about the charter. We have been focusing for a long time on the consultation process, working to gain feedback from students all over the UK, industry experts and UKCISA members to ensure it is relevant.
“Actually feeling people resonate with the final document is really exciting. It’s going to be an evolving process that we can keep reviewing with each new cohort [of students],” Nassonova added.
Speaking to The PIE, Lynsey Bendon, Assistant Director of Operations and Student Experience at the University of Sunderland in London, said it was “fantastic to see what our international students do”.
“It’s going to be an evolving process that we can keep reviewing with each new cohort”
“I think as higher education professionals we are all really inspired by their stories and inspired by this student charter. It gives us something to aim for. I think many universities will find they are doing a lot of it already, but it’s really nice to be able to record that and reflect that for the international students we have and for the international students that are to come [in the future],” she said.
The three-day UKCISA annual conference continues with a wide range of sessions on visa compliance and risk, student refugees, immigration issues, reimagining careers support, global citizenship and international law. The conference has attracted professionals from international student support teams who, after a three year hiatus, were pleased to be back together to share best practice.