Article: How does an international student influence youth work policy in Wales and England?
Ken Ebihara is an international youth and community student studying in Wales. He offers his perspective on youth work policies in Wales and England and suggests ways in which international students can influence both policy and practice.
I am an international student studying Youth and Community Work course at the Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales. My first language is neither English nor Welsh and my cultural background is also different from that of the United Kingdom. I was the principal petitioner for the petition called the Save the Future Generation of Wales (SFGW) in the last summer to ensure the financial resources for statutory youth work provisions delivered by all local authorities in Wales. With support from public members, a community group and an official support from the UNISON Wales, the petition collected sufficient numbers of signatures which led to the Petitions Committee in the National Assembly for Wales formally considering its proposals. In one of the correspondences with the committee, Eluned Morgan AC/AM, the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, promised the committee that the financial aspect of statutory youth work provision would be taken into account as part of the reviewing process for Extending Entitlement (Welsh Government, 2018). The issue I raised through the petition was eventually taken over and ongoing consideration on the matter has been implemented by the Welsh Government. I use this example to also reflect on the international students studying on Youth and Community courses in the UK and consider what benefits the student brings to practitioners, young people and the wider field.
Political movement in Wales
Some political movements for youth work in both Wales and England have recently emerged and we have seen the political priority of youth work increase in both countries. Firstly, political movement for youth work in Wales is focused here. The Children, Young People and Education Committee, which is a part of the Welsh Government, has currently implemented an inquiry founded on the findings from the report released by the committee in December 2016, What type of youth service does Wales want? There was a committee meeting on 10th May 2018 and many stakeholders for youth work in Wales were invited to this meeting, such as those from the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS), Wales Principal Youth Officers’ Group (PYOG), Children in Wales and Youth Cymru. This inquiry covered a wide range of aspects of youth work, such as: how accessible provisions were to bilingual young people; cooperative working between statutory and voluntary sectors; and to what extent the leadership taken by the Welsh Government impacted on the operation in local authorities. Needless to say, ensuring the financial resource for provisions delivered by local authorities was included in the discussion as one of the core components of the youth work strategy in Wales.
Political movement in England
In relation to political movement for youth work in England, there also seems to be more explicit and obvious political actions related to youth work. A Youth & Policy article called Winning a Statutory Youth Service contributed by Mr Doug Nicholls (2018) underlines the significance of the political attention drawn to youth work in England. The author described the significance of a roundtable event focusing in on a new youth service, organised by Choose Youth at the Place of Westminster on 23rd April 2018:
With 42 years of campaigning on this issue behind me, I can truly say it was the most united and determined event on this issue ever. More importantly, it has achieved the deepest, strongest, most sincere and powerful Parliamentary support I have ever seen (Nicholls, 2018).
In addition, Nicholls (2018), Winterton (2018a) and Choose Youth (2018) separately report that John McDonnell MP, the Shadow Chancellor, announced at a Conference of the General Federation of Trade Unions held in February 2018 that the next Labour manifesto will include support for statutory youth services. Furthermore, the Labour Party posted a press release on its official website revealing that the party will implement a consultation for quality of statutory youth services in England (Labour Party, 2018). In my opinion, this is one of the most thought-provoking announcements which has been the catalyst for me to make a hypothesis, which will be scrutinised later in this article. Finally, according to National Youth Agency (2018), an inquiry is to be conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Youth Affairs. This could be seen as an opportunity for youth practitioners and organisations to show the evidence of positive impact brought by youth work activities on lives of young people in England. This inquiry opens from 27th June and is aimed at a wide range of practitioners and organisations in the sector. An emphasis is made by National Youth Agency (2018) that ‘This is a rare opportunity for the sector and we encourage all organisations and individuals in the sector to contribute’. (Have your voice heard now! https://nya.org.uk/appg-inquiry/).
Making potential contributions
As we have seen so far, there is a growing trend towards a concern for youth work and young people. Now, I would like to pose a hypothesis with my opinion. I would argue that the success in the SFGW petition, which aimed at ensuring financial resources for youth work and raising the importance of this factor, resulted in influencing the political movement in England in an indirect way; as well as directly on that of Wales. This hypothesis, as the most crucial element, is founded on the fact that the Welsh Government decided to address the issue formally through considering it in meetings of the Children, Young People and Education Committee. It could be seen that the Welsh Government acknowledged the legitimacy of the issue raised by the petition, the opinions gathered from the public members through the signatures and the importance of caring about young people of Wales. This positive attitude of the Welsh Government could have impacted on political stakeholders in England.
There are two main reasons, which underpin this hypothesis. The first reason is the aforementioned press release by the Labour Party. According to the press release (Labour Party, 2018), Cat Smith MP, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, explains about the consultation:
This will ensure that young people in every local authority have access to youth provision, services and facilities…The need for a statutory duty for every local authority to provide a minimum level of youth provision (Labour Party, 2018).
In addition, the quotation below is taken from National Assembly for Wales’ website and is something I insisted was published online last year:
It is crucial to assure and maintain the quality of youth work provided to young people in Wales…This crucial factor should not only depend on the individual local authorities’ decisions, which differ from one to another due to their own priority of expenditure. More proactive intervention by the Welsh Government must be required to ensure the minimum level of quality of services provided all across Wales (Ebihara, 2017).
It could be observed that there is a similarity between these two, underlining the importance of the role fulfilled by local authorities, to deliver statutory provisions and aiming at ensuring the level of quality of those provisions. Concerning this factor in chronological order, my assertion on the issue could have fed into the notion of the consultation.
The second reason is that the many political movements for youth work in England have occurred within the last couple of months. The roundtable event held by Choose Youth, Labour manifesto announcement by John McDonnell MP, the consultation announcement by Cat Smith MP and the inquiry by the All Parliamentary Group – all these political events linked to youth work in England have been implemented since the last February. As Nicholls (2018) indicated, there was been much effort gone into raising the profile of youth work over the last four decades by drawing political attention to youth work by many youth practitioners. We would recognise that the political attention has been drawn rapidly in a relatively short period of time. Moreover, as explained earlier, the issue I have raised by the SFGW petition was taken over by the Welsh Government. Following this, the petition was closed by the Petitions Committee on 23rd January 2018. Approximately one month later, the announcement was released by John McDonnell MP at the end of February, which was the earliest event out of the four events above. Judging from this element, a possibility could be observed that political stakeholders could have reflected on the decision made by the Welsh Government and this reflection might have been a basis for actions they have taken for youth work in England.
I truly understand that this is my subjective opinion and acknowledge that there might be the potential gap in logic with reference to this particular hypothesis. Although, a potential could be simultaneously observed that the issue I have raised and the methods used to address the issue may have been adopted by political stakeholders. In any case, at the very least, it is a fact that I, as an international student, have had a positive influence on improving the profile of youth work in Wales, with the aforementioned petition.
(A tweet made by the author facilitating cooperation amongst political parties in Wales. Caring for future generations is something of concern for all political parties).
Prospect for bringing new perspectives to the sector
As an international student studying on a youth and community work course, I have gained some outlooks that might be identified because of my status as an international student. With those findings, I would strongly recommend universities in the UK make the best efforts to attract and accept international students for Youth and Community Work courses, as there may be some benefits for youth and community work students and the wider sector.
For instance, since I started engaging in the sector, I have met some youth work practitioners whose ancestors immigrated to the UK. Many of these practitioners are often categorised as minority groups in the UK because of their ethnicity, religion or culture. In my opinion, it is beneficial for the sector to have these practitioners since they could understand more profoundly about young people or community members from a similar background, either in ethnicity, religion or culture; and thus could potentially serve these people better as a result. On the contrary, with my personal experience, I have noticed that most of these practitioners were born and have grown up in the UK and speak English as their first language, or have grown up as a bilingual.
How many practitioners in the UK can sympathise with potential barriers and difficulties that a refugee young person might face, including learning a new language or experiencing anxiety related to settling into a new culture? A practitioner might be able to understand or have an awareness of such difficulties in theory, although it might be hard for the practitioner to fully appreciate how hard these difficulties are for refugees including particularly traumatic thoughts and feelings. I would assume that this could be hard to sympathise with even for those aforementioned multi-cultural practitioners, unless they are one of those actually working with refugees. An international student in the classroom setting could allow home students to feel the fragrance of difficulties before working with refugees and potentially enable home students to sympathise and serve refugees in a better way. At the same time, home students might become interested in working with refugees due of their interaction with international students. I acknowledge that not all youth and community practitioners work with refugees and the best way to understand them is working directly with refugees as there are still differences between refugees and international students. However, this idea could be seen as an example of the potential merits of including international students on Youth and Community Work courses.
At the same time, there are also potential opportunities for international students to contribute positively to the youth work sector. For example, in my case, regulations in Wales allowed an international student to petition to the National Assembly for Wales, therefore, I could take political action and contribute to the sector and young people. Personally, I feel that these are some opportunities which could be taken by international students for the youth work sector, and beyond.
When I searched for a University to enroll in 2014, I found that most of the Universities in the UK did not have a pathway for international students to enroll on Youth and Community Work courses. I do not know about the current situation in 2018, although I would assume that the situation is still the same. Contrary to other courses such as business management or IT related courses, unfortunately, the door to Youth and Community Work course is almost closed to international students. I personally perceive this situation as a shame and regard the situation as something to be addressed to improve the youth work sector and with additional benefits to young people and future generations.
It is a fact that we do not know exactly what sort of contributions would be made by international students. Even though, I strongly believe that this is definitely worthy of exploration. My assumption is that no practitioner, youth work organisation, academic or political stakeholder anticipated that an international student would make a positive contribution to the sector and young people.
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Last Updated: 12 July 2018
Choose Youth (2018) John McDonnell commits to a statutory youth service. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Oi-jCPYqVo&feature=youtu.be&a= (Accessed: 03 June 2018).
Ebihara, K. (2017) e-Petition: Save the Future Generation of Wales. Available at: https://www.assembly.wales/en/gethome/e-petitions/Pages/petitiondetail.aspx?PetitionID=1207 (Accessed: 04 June 2018).
Labour Party (2018) Labour commits to consult on the implementation of a statutory youth service at youth summit. Available at: https://labour.org.uk/press/labour-commits-consult-implementation-statutory-youth-service-youth-summit/ (Accessed: 03 June 2018).
National Youth Agency (2018) APPG Inquiry into Youth Work. Available at: https://nya.org.uk/appg-inquiry/ (Accessed: 03 June 2018).
Nicholls, D. (2018) Winning a Statutory Youth Service. Available at: http://www.youthandpolicy.org/articles/winning-a-statutory-youth-service/ (Accessed: 03 June 2018).
Welsh Government (2018) 09.01.18 Correspondence – Minister for the Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning to the Chair, item 3. [Governmental Document]. 09 January. Available at: http://www.senedd.assembly.wales/documents/s71105/09.01.18%20Correspondence%20Minister%20for%20the%20Welsh%20Language%20and%20Lifelong%20Learning%20to%20the%20Chair.pdf (Accessed: 03 June 2018).
Winterton, A. (2018a) NYA welcomes Labour’s commitment to statutory youth service. Available at: https://nya.org.uk/2018/02/shadow-chancellor-exchequer-john-mcdonnell-commits-statutory-youth-service/ (Accessed: 03 June 2018).
An international student studying Youth and Community Work course at the Cardiff Metropolitan University. Also the principal petitioner for the ‘Save the Future Generation of Wales’ (SFGW petition).