Empowering International Student Voices

An Interview with Muhammad Sarim Jalal, President of CISA at Higher School of Economics.

Empowering International Student Voices

I am Collins Ogudu, a second year master's student who studies Foreign Languages and Intercultural Communications at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Today we woll talk to the president of the Council of International Students Association (CISA) of the Higher School of Economics.

Dear Muhammad, please tell us some words about yourself.

My name is Muhammad Sarim Jalal, and I hail from a South Asian country known as Pakistan. This is my first year here at HSE - Higher School of Economics, and I am a first-year Master's student pursuing a degree program in Business Analytics and Big Data Systems at the Graduate School of Business. Right now, I am also serving as the President of the Council of International Students’ Association, which is an authorized student body for international students at the Higher School of Economics.

Well, that’s quite a significant profile. Let’s move on to the next point. Can you share your thoughts about HSE, the university in general, and its relationship with international students?

The University stands as one of the most prestigious institutes available, and I feel immensely proud to be a part of this multicultural, multiethnic university. Not only is HSE well-known in Russia, but it also enjoys a strong reputation globally. It boasts a student population of more than fifty thousand, with almost ten to fifteen percent being international students. I am always proud to be associated with this university.

Very well said. You're absolutely correct. In terms of Africa, I believe we have representation from about twenty countries out of the fifty-four on the continent. So, your observations are quite accurate, Muhammad. Can you share your vision for the role of the president of international students at the Higher School of Economics? What key initiatives or changes would you like to implement during your tenure?

This appointment has been particularly interesting for me, given my prior experience in similar activities during my bachelor’s program at my previous university. To give you some context, my previous university had a total student population of nine thousand. In such an environment, students were responsible for managing their social, extracurricular, and academic lives, creating a vibrant university atmosphere. However, here at HSE, with over five thousand international students, their participation in university life, especially in extracurricular activities, is relatively low. It's crucial for me to address this issue during my tenure. Active involvement in extracurricular and socio-cultural activities fosters interaction among students, which, in turn, helps alleviate various challenges they may face. By encouraging greater participation, we can enhance the overall student experience and inform university policies that cater to the needs of all students.

You've touched upon a significant point regarding the need for greater engagement among international students. Now, let's delve into a pressing issue you mentioned earlier – documentation challenges. How do you plan to address these issues, particularly for students who may face language barriers or difficulties navigating administrative processes?

The solution lies in leveraging existing support structures within HSE. We have dedicated departments and student councils equipped to assist students with various challenges. It's essential for students to realize that they have representation within the university and that their concerns will be heard. While language barriers may pose challenges, initiatives like the Council of International Students’ Association (CISA) provide a comfortable platform for international students to seek assistance. By promoting awareness of such resources, we can effectively address documentation and administrative hurdles.

Collaboration and communication indeed seem to be the key aspects of your role in fostering a stronger relationship between international and domestic students and the university administration. Moving on to another critical value – diversity and inclusion. How do you plan to ensure that the voices and concerns of international students are heard and represented in decision-making processes?

The university functions as a nexus between students and administration, with student councils bridging communication gaps. At HSE, diversity and inclusion are already ingrained, given the institution's internationalized nature and English as the official mode of communication. However, there's always room for improvement. By facilitating greater interaction among students and providing platforms for cultural exchange, we can enhance inclusivity. Moreover, initiatives like CISA serve as advocates for international students, ensuring their perspectives are considered in decision-making processes.

Your commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion is evident. Let's now address another crucial aspect of student welfare – emotional and psychological support. How do you plan to support international students who may experience feelings of isolation or homesickness?

The university offers dedicated support services, including trained psychologists, to cater to students' emotional and psychological needs. Additionally, student councils like CISA provide a platform for students to seek assistance and connect with peers. Cultural differences, while challenging, offer opportunities for personal growth and development. By embracing cultural diversity and fostering a sense of community, we can alleviate feelings of isolation and promote overall well-being among international students.

Muhammad, your approach to addressing these challenges is comprehensive and commendable. Let's shift our focus to financial matters, a significant concern for many international students. How do you plan to advocate for their financial needs and ensure they have access to resources and support?

HSE offers various scholarship opportunities and financial aid programs to support students. The recent expansion of scholarship spots by the Russian government further enhances these opportunities. Additionally, initiatives like the extended scholarship program and financial aid office provide avenues for students to access support based on their individual circumstances. Furthermore, exchange programs and funding opportunities offered by faculties incentivize academic excellence and provide additional financial support for deserving students.

Financial stability is indeed crucial for student success. Now, let's address concerns related to global events, such as immigration policies and international tensions, which may impact international students. How do you plan to support students facing uncertainties or challenges related to their status or safety?

While we may not have the authority to change policies, we can provide students with information and guidance to navigate these challenges. By collaborating with relevant departments and organizations, we can ensure that students receive the support they need during uncertain times. It's essential to emphasize that the university prioritizes student welfare and is committed to providing assistance wherever possible.

Your commitment to supporting students through challenging times is reassuring. Let's now discuss the impact of current restrictions on international students, including travel limitations and remote learning. How do you plan to address these ongoing issues and support students through these difficult times?

While travel restrictions and remote learning pose challenges, it's essential to remain resilient and adaptable. HSE is committed to providing support and resources to help students overcome these challenges. Initiatives like the mail payment system and student support services enable students to access essential services and resources, regardless of their location. By fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, we can navigate these difficulties together and emerge stronger as a community.

Your proactive approach to addressing these challenges is commendable. Finally, as the president of CISA, how do you plan to measure the effectiveness of your initiatives and ensure accountability to the student body?

Accountability is a core value of our organization, and we are committed to ensuring transparency and effectiveness in all our initiatives. By setting clear goals and objectives, we can track progress and assess the impact of our efforts. Additionally, we welcome feedback from students and stakeholders to continuously improve and refine our approach. Through collaboration and communication, we can uphold our commitment to serving the needs of the student body and promoting a vibrant and inclusive campus community.

Muhammad, your dedication to serving the student community is truly inspiring. It has been a pleasure speaking with you, and I commend you for your thoughtful initiatives and leadership. Thank you for your time.

Thank you, Collins. It's been a pleasure discussing these important issues with you. I look forward to continuing our work together to support international students at HSE.

Interview by

Collins Ogudu