UKCOSA - The Council for International Education

The growth in international students has brought with it many benefits for British higher education, both academic and financial, but it has also resulted in the result of the growth of new needs and the emergence of a new category of university administrator - the International Officer.

Although most higher education institutions (HEI’s) now have International Offices to cater for special needs and problems of international students the higher education system is also well served by a specialist, UKCOSA: The Council for International Education.

UKCOSA’s Mission
UKCOSA was established in the late 1960s after the introduction of differential fees for overseas students in 1967.

In the words of Professor Peter Scott, Chair of the Executive Committee of UKCOSA, it was founded “because of the introduction of two-tier tuition fees threatened to turn international students into a commodity.

There was therefore an urgent need to re-assert their fellow importance, and value, as people - fellow citizens of the world and partners in learning, scholarship and research”.

UKCOSA’s mission stems from its belief in the benefits that result from international student mobility. In this belief, it promotes and seeks to protect:

  • The interests of students from other countries studying in the UK;
  • The interests of students from the UK studying - or wishing to study - abroad;
  • The factors facilitating student mobility. In pursuing theses goals UKCOSA will act a resource centre, an agent of research and policy department, and a forum for its members and others.

Given the growth in international student mobility, the growth in British education institutions’ activities abroad through partnership and franchising arrangements, higher education is much more international in its outlook than it was, say, thirty years ago.

Inevitability, given the proliferation of links and the increase in the number of international students, friction’s and problems sometimes arise.

Although such problems are caused by economic and political development is in the countries from which students come, other factors might also be involved, including changes in the law and other practices on the UK.

In a world of continuous change it is not therefore surprising that universities and colleges have increasingly turned to a specialised institution such as UKCOSA to help them overcome these problems.

At the same time institutions wishing to raise the profile of their international activities have turned to UKCOSA for advice on developing good practice in this area.

But is not just the HEI’s which have turned to UKCOSA for help, and as a consequence its membership base has expanded considerably in recent years, as too has its influence.

The range of UKCOSA’s membership is impressive. All UK universities are members as are many other colleges and institutions in higher and further education.

In addition, almost a hundred student organisations are members as well as some fifty other voluntary organisations and academic and professional bodies.

Services provided
Equally impressive as its membership is the range of serve that UKCOSA provides for them. As its mission implies, all of these are aimed directly or indirectly at enhancing international mobility and student welfare.

In order to achieve its mission and at the same time promote good practice in all aspects of international education amongst the education providers, UKCOSA maintain close contacts with UK Government departments as well with relevant organisations overseas.

The range of services provided consists of:

  • Giving advice;
  • Providing training, seminars and workshops;
  • Generating and disseminating information;
  • Developing professional networks for the exchange of ideas and discussion of policy issues.

Advisory Role
Students and professional staff working in HEI seek advice on a range of issues, particularly immigration and fees which together account for over half of all enquiries.

Such enquiries are made via e-mail or telephone, and in order to cater for the latter there is a dedicated telephone advisory service operating on each week-day afternoon.

One third of all enquiries originate from European countries and a quarter from Asian Countries.

Information Support.
UKCOSA produces a wide range of information for distribution to students and professional staff who advise students.

For students intending to study in the UK there is a series entitled “Guidance Notes for Students” with over 26 different titles, dealing with such issues as accommodation, source of funding for international students, study methods, welfare benefits and how to complete the Home Office student application form.

To ensure that information provided to students is up to date, all Guidance Notes are revised each year.

For professional staff working with international students, the comprehensive reference guide entitled The UKCOSA Manual is a valuable source of information on regulations, procedures and issues effecting international students.

In addition to the Manual, which is revised annually, is ONYX, an electronic guide to regulations and procedures.

To ensure that member organisations are kept fully up to date with changes in legislation and with issues of current concern, UKCOSA Briefing is published bi-monthly.

In addition to the Briefing UKCOSA also publishes Inside News, a news bulletin reporting on developments in international education.

Training and Seminars
Staff and Development and training are important in all organisations, practically in universities and colleges where the growth in student numbers over the last decade has outstripped the growth in resources.

In such a situation staff obviously need to keep abreast of changing developments and skill requirements if the quality of the service that they offer is the to be maintained.

While keeping abreast is vitally important it is not the only consideration within higher education. Professional and support staff within a university might typically be dealing with students from fifty or sixty countries - and in some institutions this number could be as high as a hundred.

All such staff must therefore be sensitive to the cultural differences and different needs of different student groups. Training in cultural awareness is therefore essential for such staff.

UKCOSA’s training courses and its programme of seminars and workshops has much to offer those who are responsible for both recruiting and supporting international students.

These programs are designed to assist many different groups, all of which contribute to the provision of “an all-round quality of service to students”.

In addition to the various training programmes available through UKCOSA, it also provides in-house training that is specially tailored to meet the specific needs of individual institutions.

Finally, UKCOSA collaborates with the University of Nottingham in offering Certificate, Diploma and MA programmes for International Education Professional.

Those attending the training courses available can also earn credit towards the Certificate (contact UKCOSA for more details).

Developing Professional Networks
One of the highlights of the year for those involved in international education is the UKCOSA annual conference. This is organised around a particular theme and combines the more traditional lectures and panel discussions with training courses and information workshops.

The 2001 Conference is held at University of Nottingham. While the annual conference provides an ideal opportunity for professionals to network, to renew old contacts while also making new acquaintances, they occur frequently, therefore e-mail discussion, launched on the UKCOSA Website , launched in 1996, was designed to achieve this.

It not only enables USCOSA to communicate quickly with its membership, particularly whenever important issues arise and issues arise and feedback is required, but also provides a forum for discussion, debate and the sharing of information among members.

Concluding comments
Given the expansion in higher education in recent years the sector is now more important than ever before, at least in terms of income generation and employment creation.

Higher Education is no different to any other industry and UKCOSA can be seen as a specialist supplier servicing particular needs. However, as Professor Scott implies (see quotation above) the raison d’etre of UKCOSA is to ensure that higher education does not simply focus on revenue and costs that give rise to profit and loss.

Of course, higher education institutions do not, by and large, behave like profit-maximising firms. But higher education is an expensive commodity and in today’s market environment universities and colleges have to break-even, i.e. cover their costs.

It is the existence of such organisations as ECS and UKCOSA that only enable universities and colleges to buy-in specialist services to meet their specialist needs, but also act as a reminder that the needs and welfare of international students must remain paramount.

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