Comment: We have always been international

Dominic Trendall, President of the University of Sheffield's Students' Union, writes about the University's proud history of welcoming international students during World Week (23 October - 29 October 2016).

We have always been international

by Dominic Trendall, 26.10.16

The University of Sheffield, in conjunction with the Students’ Union, launched its #WeAreInternational campaign in 2013. In recent months, its relevance has only increased.

The founding principles of the University are what makes Sheffield so special. At the turn of the 20th century, the promise of a University for Sheffield, bringing the highest level of education within the reach of the child of the working man, inspired donations from across the city from steelworkers, coal miners and factory workers and changed the city forever.

The University has never forgotten its roots. The contribution the University makes to the city is unquantifiable. The experience of being part of such a rich and diverse academic community woven into a strong and long-standing local community is something to be cherished and celebrated.

Sheffield’s international story began before the University’s Royal Charter was even ratified. Z.T.K. Woo began his studies in Sheffield in 1904, and was the first of many thousands since. Sheffield should be forever proud of its history, and international students have been part of our University community since the very start. Studying is a journey and the best thing about travelling is the friends you meet along the way.

International students had their own autonomous representation even before the First World War within the Students’ Union, leading the way in international student representation. This legacy survives to this day. We are one of only a handful of Students’ Unions in the UK to have a full time elected International Students’ Officer, responsible not just for elevating the voices of international students but in striving for an environment in which we can all learn from each other, and benefit from each other's perspectives.

The experience of being part of such a rich and diverse academic community woven into a strong and long-standing local community is something to be cherished and celebrated.

Dominic Trendall, students' union president

The contribution of international students make to our University is immeasurable. Amin Yousef was the first International student to be elected President of Sheffield Students’ Union, in 1936. He campaigned against racism and for the rights of overseas students. Yousef served as our President when the Union was campaigning for the introduction of a University Health Service, to help students who struggled to meet their medical costs.

This was 12 years before the introduction of the National Health Service, and even eight decades on, Sheffield remains an outlier in directly ensuring its students’ health is properly attended to. Yousef went on to become a member of the Egyptian Parliament, and by the time he came back to visit Sheffield compulsory medical checks were in place for the early signs of Tuberculosis, which had killed two students when he was at the University. He showed that students can inspire change, from the University and within our own communities.

The motto of the University translates roughly into English as ‘to discover the causes of things’. As students, our mission has to go a little further than that. It is also to change things when they are not quite right. Yousef understood this, and this reflects the importance of contribution that international students have made to our University.

A University for Sheffield and #WeAreInternational are not mutually exclusive concepts: they can be part of the same vision of a University that reaches out and celebrates diversity, and gives something back to the local community. This has always been our vision.

International students are an irreplaceable part of the community we have built here together. We’ve always been international.