International Students’ Workgroup

Student representatives’ usual activities are enriched by the opportunity to be part of different workgroups, which focus on specific topics in more depth. For example, in the 2020/2021 academic year, there are five of them: a working group on study quality, development, doctoral students, international students and communication. We will introduce them all in turn.

The International Students’ Workgroup has 1678 students in its focus. That is exactly how many international students are studying at the University of Tartu as of March 19th (University of Tartu Statistics, 2021). But why focus on them separately? Everything is the same, just in English. Or …?

No. That is the simple answer. Like in many other topics, we, as the majority’s representatives, are often blind to minorities. For example, in autumn, at the very beginning of the workgroup’s work, one ominous rumour was lurking around among international students, and, unfortunately, it turned out to be true. International students from third countries applying for a needs-based study allowance are threatened with temporary residence permit suspension because a condition for studying in Estonia is the ability to provide for oneself and prove it. At the same time, the minimum income set as a condition for staying in the country is lower than the maximum income for receiving a needs-based study allowance…

In addition, restrictions were placed on working hours and having family members living with the student. Finding housing outside of university dormitories is another issue, as apartment owners often do not want to communicate in English or are afraid of students because of their background. Also, because of the latter, offensive behaviour can be observed against too many international students. However, the whole integration process will be examined in more detail by the educational policy campaign “Inclusivity” launched for the spring semester.

The constant fear of acting “wrong” and being “wrong”, and financial worries can be quite debilitating, which is why it is important for international students to know where to get counselling, which is not so obviously easy to find. All the systems that we are familiar with are the result of what we have experienced so far in our lives, but what is unknown to migrants.

The International Students’ Workgroup, chaired by Helo Liis Soodla, Vice-Chair of Education Policy at UTSU, deals with these and many other issues. And who are the members of the working group? Mostly, of course, international students themselves. For example, Binghua who is from China and has previously studied in the United States.

This is Binghua, student of Contemporary Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

But this is Binghua Liu, student representative in the Council of School of Economics and Business Administration

The motivation for Binghua to participate in the workgroup is the will to get to know the university, but even more, that the university gets to know its international students. And although student representatives are voting members of the institute or faculty council, participation in the workgroup contributes even more to the ability to represent as an international student because generally, working documents are in Estonian and participation in the council’s work is sometimes difficult.

Binghua has taken part in almost all the workgroup meetings and is well acquainted with what is on the table. In addition to those mentioned above, she highlights the well-established relations with ESN and ISA, the Erasmus Student Network and the International Student Ambassadors. Together, they touch on the sore points of international students and try to find solutions to them. As an active student representative and member of the international students’ working group, Binghua was also invited to participate in the recording of Inclusivity’s first podcast. “Finally, we have moved from ideas to actually doing something,” she says, summarising all these activities.

When asked what kind of student would be a suitable representative, Binghua answers that communication skills and commitment are most important. “If you don’t want to communicate, it is quite difficult to be a representative. There is no point in joining if you are not present and you only want the title, but not the responsibilities,” she is resolute.

Read more about UTSU

Workgroups: communication

workgroups: study quality

Workgroups: development group

What do the representatives do – standing for rights, for real!

What do the representatives do – how to be visible?

What do the representatives do – a functional student council

UTSU’s structure

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