“The absolutely key thing is that this government has decided that international students are massively important for the future of the country.”
So said Sir Steve Smith, the UK’s appointed International Education Champion, speaking at a virtual event for international students enrolled with UK institutions as part of UKCISA’s week-long activities, UKCISA Fest.
Cementing the shift in policy since the UK government axed post-study work rights in 2011 – which as Smith pointed out swiftly led to a massive drop in Indian students – he said, “I think we all realized that we didn’t send out the right signals when we were restricting international immigration to come to university.
“Every time I went to India, that point was made very clear to me. The government did listen, did realize that they needed to change, and did change.”
Smith urged students watching to use the #Weareinternational ambassador program, which is now run under the auspices of UKCISA, to ensure the government can listen to the concerns and viewpoints of its international student cohort.
“During these unprecedented times, things are going to develop quickly and we won’t always get things right. And therefore, it’s mission-critical that we ask international students to work with us,” he continued.
“Our intention is to remove obstacles. That’s one part of my brief,” he said.
“Not only am I to promote international education. I’m also there to remove obstacles that make the experience of international students difficult, and therefore I need to know what those obstacles are.”
Ensuring that statements coming out addressed to all students, such as around travel plans for Christmas, also acknowledge the distinct needs of the international student community, was a point acknowledged by Smith that needed ongoing consideration.
Anne-Marie Graham, chief executive of UKCISA, added, “For those of us who have worked in the sector for a while, it’s incredibly positive to see the new policies coming out of government, to see strategies that set out to welcome international students.”
Chairing the session was an international student ambassador, Nebu George, who also called for more support and career guidance for international students to ensure the new graduate immigration route can lead to a meaningful opportunity for students.
International students got to take part in a virtual afternoon tea with members of parliament later during the same day, celebrating #InternationalStudentsDay.