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#WeAreInternational Student Forum: Helping to build a global community of students in further education

Anne Marie Graham is chief executive of UKCISA

Celebrating international and EU students and gaining valuable insight

UKCISA took two great leaps forward on Monday 18 November, launching its first ever #WeAreInternational Student Forum with a range of FE and HE students to mark its move to the #WeAreInternational campaign established by the University of Sheffield.

Following the publication of the International Education Strategy in March, UKCISA, the University of Sheffield and the campaign’s creators agreed that it was important to broaden the campaign out to further education and other areas of the education sector, to counter the perception that #WeAreInternational was just aimed at higher education and increase the campaign’s reach.

Through its work with its 96 members in the FE sector across the UK, UKCISA recognises that international students make a significant contribution to the sector, internationalising the curriculum and the learning environment, and helping to build a global community of students in further education.

Exchange programmes like Erasmus+ are an exciting part of colleges’ offer to its students (and staff), providing funding for international experience.

The level of engagement with Erasmus+ across FE demonstrates how international the sector is, and how much more international it could be with additional resource.

New strategic plan for 2020

UKCISA will launch a new strategic plan in early 2020. A key part of our strategy is to ensure that we are delivering the best possible service for all our member institutions, from across the education sector. We want to do more with our colleagues in FE, continuing our advice and training for FE members, such as the AoC event in October to mark #LoveOurColleges week.

We will also be evaluating our services to ensure we remain responsive to the needs of the FE sector, while recognising the specific challenges it faces. UKCISA needed to do what we could to ensure that colleagues in FE, and their students, felt the campaign was theirs too.

The #WeAreInternational student forum was an important step forward in opening up the dialogue between international students in the UK and decision-makers. An opportunity for students from a range of backgrounds, disciplines and institutions to share their personal experience of coming to the UK to study, from application to post-graduation.

We were overwhelmed by the level of engagement from all students, and it demonstrated that there is clearly a role for us to fill in providing them with this type of forum.

Students raised some insightful questions and challenges they’ve faced during the Forum and it was clear that they are motivated to advocate for their interests and lobby for change.

Upskilling teaching staff to support international students

One emerging theme of relevance for our FE colleagues was the need to further upskill teaching staff on how to support international students with learning, ensuring that they are supported to develop language skills and confidence, while not being patronised. UKCISA will look at ways to expand and promote our training courses in this area.

To enable us to further capture international and EU valuable insight across the sector, UKCISA is creating a #WeAreInternational student ambassador programme. It will ensure that we foster a network of current students to shape our thinking and inform our work.

The programme will also provide opportunities for the students themselves to develop their skills in policy, leadership and public speaking. Applications are now open on the UKCISA website, and we welcome interest from the FE community.

While the day was a celebration of international students in the UK, and their contribution to our education sector and our society, it also served an important purpose. We will publish a series of policy recommendations for government and institutions.

We hope that our FE members will join us in the #WeAreInternational campaign, aligning with other campaigns including #LoveOurColleges, and continuing an important conversation about how we work with and look to the prospective and current international student in further education.

Anne Marie Graham is chief executive of UKCISA, the UK Council for International Student Affairs. UKCISA supports international and EU students and those who work with them in FE and HE.

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