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Epigram interviews Bristol SU’s International Student Officer

Epigram’s News Investigations Editor, Ellyssa, chats with Bakhtawar Javed about her accomplishments and priorities as Bristol SU’s International Student Officer.

Bakhtawar welcoming students in the Great Hall at Wills Memorial Building

By Ellyssa Ashley Rozahan, News Investigations Editor

International students make up 28% of the University’s student body. Though often grouped together, international students are far from homogenous - the University hosts students from over 150 countries, with Chinese, Indian and Malaysian students making up the three biggest diasporas within the international student body. 

Bakhtawar has decided to prioritise accessibility to services, community & belonging, and representation of international students at both the local and sector levels for her 2023/24 tenure. 

During Welcome Week, Bakhtawar herself observed the transition of international students into the University and life in Bristol. Bakhtawar feels that the services provided by the University are all designed to deal with different aspects of the international student experience.

The Global Lounge hosts a wide array of events - these include workshops focused on combating culture shock, afternoon tea socials and student mingles. They focus on the social aspect of being a student, while ResiLife does the same for students in halls.

Picture of Bakhtawar Javed, Bristol SU’s International Student Officer. Credit: Bakhtawar Javed

Admittedly, there are areas for improvement to ensure a smoother transition into life in the UK. This includes better communication from the University regarding necessary information regarding visa applications. Logistical issues such as different countries requiring additional or different documents make it difficult to compile all information into one neat guide that applies to the entire student body.

The creation of such a guide will bring in logistical problems if the SU were to work with 50+ International Societies affiliated with the SU. However, Bakhtawar did have an idea for an alternative where a generic Guide can be made by the SU into which the societies can give input.

A common worry amongst international students is that the University is not keeping their interests in mind when making university-wide decisions. Bakhtawar reassures that student voices are being considered, and student representatives are often invited to join university committee meetings. Despite this, the voices of international students are missing within the governing structure of the University, despite multiple national debates on issues regarding international students.

The SU, on the other hand, has good representation, especially with the full-time role of the International Student Officer, which is not implemented in all Russell Group universities. Furthermore, in the 2023-24 academic year, multiple elected posts are held by international students - these include the Chair of the Student Council, the Chair of the BAME Network, and multiple Presidential roles. 

One impressive item Bakhtawar has accomplished very early into her tenure is the successful lobbying of the Russell Group Student Union (RGSU). The RGSU have announced that they will be prioritising four things this year: cost of living, postgraduate experience, international students, and fees & funding. 

Bakhtawar takes pride in knowing that, especially knowing that Russell Group universities host the biggest proportion of international students. Having the RGSU explicitly pursue bettering the experience of international students UK-wide is a step in the right direction. Bakhtawar believes that though change may take a while to come, the RGSU nevertheless has the power to influence and lobby the government to change and ensure that international students fit within their respective university communities.

Featured Image: Bakhtawar Javed