Guest blog: Acting together for the sake of our students

19 May 2021

Reflections from Professor Craig Mahoney (left), Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of the West of Scotland, following recent government announcements on a four-nations approach to international travel

Our universities are, rightly, recognised as among the best in the world.

A key reason the UK can boast one of the most respected higher education landscapes internationally is that it has, for decades, attracted many of the most talented students from around the globe. International students are not only drawn to the UK by the prospect of earning respected and highly prized skills and qualifications – they also know they can look forward to incredibly enriching and diverse life experiences in our vibrant cities, towns and countryside, beyond the labs and lecture theatres.

But, the pandemic has put those transformational opportunities for international students in jeopardy and the rapidly changing requirements around global travel have been eroding the ability of international students to make informed decisions about study in the UK, and ultimately their futures.

I have firmly advocated for a clearer, more consistent and coordinated four-nations approach to get international students back to our universities for September 2021 and therefore very much welcome the latest government announcements confirming that we’re moving towards a more joined-up approach to global travel.

At this stage, it is important to acknowledge the fact that – in order to ensure our campuses were safe for students and colleagues – our universities responded swiftly, energetically and with agility throughout the pandemic; spending millions of pounds on ensuring our sites fully complied with all prevailing and regularly changing Covid regulations. We have also spent millions more on improving technology supported learning, to ensure our students continue to benefit from a high-quality educational experience.

That is the real frontline higher education story; one characterised by thousands of highly committed colleagues and students working together to maintain safe and enriching educational journeys, with wide-ranging and comprehensive pastoral support. The innovations we have introduced and co-created during this period have been truly inspiring and many of them will continue to benefit students long after Covid restrictions are a distant memory.

UK universities are eager to welcome back, educate and support our international students, who in turn do so much for our institutions and communities in terms of enhancing diversity, enriching culture and forging global partnerships.

Our aim is to give confidence to students hoping to start or resume their university experience from September 2021 and ensure that they benefit from the valuable interactions that are provided through academic learning and meaningful extra-curricular engagements in clubs, societies, sport, volunteering, work placement and self-study. The recent announcements on a more joined up four nations approach to international travel are welcome because our students deserve clarity – no matter where in the UK their university of choice is based. International students can’t wait to be here and we can’t wait to welcome back our friends from around the world – reaffirming our status as the world’s leading higher education destination.

Find Professor Mahoney on Twitter @PrincipalUWS