This article was written by Sydney Jones: Vice President – James Cook University Student Association and Acting International Officer, Member of the Queensland International Student Advisory Panel, TIQ.

The Council of International Students Australia (CISA) hosted their 7th annual conference in Canberra July 3rd– 6th. For those who are not familiar with CISA, it is the national peak student representative body for all undergraduate, postgraduate, TAFE, VET and ELICOS international students.

The theme of the conference was “Students at the Heart of Best Practices.” We discussed issues international students face and the best practices moving forward.

Combining international student leaders from around Australia with the industry lead to crucial professional development for us as well as conversations on how we can work together.

The first two days of the conference were primarily for student leaders and representatives. We sat in small groups to discuss the current issues facing international students such as employability, accommodation, transportation, pre- arrival information, racism and discrimination, mental health and more. My favourite part was a student panel and discussion about linking indigenous and international student issues.

CISA Talk

It was incredibly eye opening to see how similar our two student communities are and how we should work together to try and solve our issues.

In those sessions we talked a lot about identity and how students often feel pressure representing their culture and race to Australian students, while also trying to learn and adapt to the Australian culture. This pressure often affects the mental health of both indigenous and international students and can act as a barrier to being successful during our studies.

Possible solutions we came up with were multicultural events and cultural awareness training programs to provide safe spaces for students to be able to feel comfortable representing their culture and taking it as a chance to educate students about their culture.

The second two days combined international education industry leaders and students, which provided us with an opportunity to practice our networking skills and learn about best practices together through a variety of breakout sessions. This is unique to CISA because at other international education industry conferences students are not well represented and it is important for students to have a voice when they are directly affected.

The importance of the student voice was a key theme over the four days. Professor Sally Varnham from University Technology Sydney presented a session and workshop on student engagement in governance and decision- making. She has started the conversation about building a national framework for student engagement and partnership with institutions. For more information on her fellowship here is the website. Her session, along with our last one, did a really good job at tying up the conference with the main theme.

The conference ended with all of us sitting in the senate room of the Old Parliament House listening to four top industry leaders talk about the future of international education in Australia. The speakers touched on one of the biggest debates in international education; whether Australia should be offering more migratory options to students or, encourage international students to study here and take the education they received back to their home country. It is a difficult debate to have and something that will not be settled anytime soon.

I came out of the conference with a positive experience overall, but it could always be better. There is such a golden opportunity when you have industry and student leaders and representatives together. So much could be accomplished and I’m not sure if the layout of the conference made proper use of it.