#WeAreInternational campaign recognised nationally and internationally

Five years into this important campaign, we reflect on how it has grown, and where we are now.


Global reach

I did not imagine how very important it would become to my own dear colleagues to be clearly and openly speaking out on this issue. I am enormously grateful to all those who have helped strengthen this message, from journalists to teachers and colleagues of all parties in parliament.

Sir Keith Burnett, President And Vice-Chancellor

A number of high-profile organisations have also supported the campaign using the #WeAreInternational hashtag, including:

• The Foreign & Commonwealth Office
• Confederation of British Industries (CBI)
• Chambers of Commerce
• Universities UK
• British Council
• National Union of Students (NUS)
• UK Council for International Students’ Affairs (UKCISA)
• UK Embassies and Consulates

#WeAreInternational has also received support in countries as far afield as Algeria, Brazil, Finland, Ghana, Slovenia and Venezuela, and is widely used by the UK in promoting British higher education overseas.

How you've been celebrating across campus

The numbers give us an idea of scale, but behind them is a sense that this campaign is giving people a platform to express their sentiments and add their voice to an issue about which they feel strongly.

We've enjoyed looking back at some of the #WeAreInternational tweets from colleagues and students that show how much the campaign means to you, and how you're uniting in a shared sentiment of togetherness.

Please continue sharing the message, letting our international colleagues and students know how much we value their contribution and friendship.

Tweets from around the University

#WeAreInternational across the UK

Across the UK, universities and students have made #WeAreInternational their own. Examples of the use of the campaign are found in all of the countries of the United Kingdom, and in organisations ranging from world-leading research-intensive universities to specialist institutions and private providers.

tweets uk

International impact

The #WeAreInternational campaign has also taken on another international dimension, offering support to a rapidly growing sister campaign in the US – #YouAreWelcomeHere.

Following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, concerns about a negative political rhetoric on immigration led Jessica Sandberg from Temple University in Philadelphia to adapt work she admired by Study Group – supporters of #WeAreInternational – for the US. The US campaign grew rapidly after the proposal of a travel ban in the US, and the two teams began to pool ideas and experiences as sister campaigns based on a shared recognition of the value of international education.

Head of Partnerships & Global Opportunities Dorte Stevenson, met Jessica at the NAFSA Association of International Educators conference in Philadelphia (below left).

dorte stevenson and jessica sandberg badges

How the campaign began

In 2012, a growing concern about attitudes towards students as immigrants led to our President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett and the then newly-elected Students’ Union President Abdi Suleiman to found a campaign with a simple but powerful message – We Are International.

Responding to concerns from students and alumni that the UK needed to be clearer in expressing its welcome to international students, the two founders felt there was a need to speak with a single voice about the crucial nature of universities as homes to international scholarship whether you were a home or overseas student.

Director of Strategic Projects and Communications Ruth Arnold said, “From the beginning, the campaign gathered wonderful support from staff and students, but we also knew that the issue was far wider than simply the University of Sheffield. We approached national bodies and even colleagues in government to help us develop materials which could be used right across UK higher education, and the support for our efforts has never stopped.

“Our first films focused on specific challenges around visas, and we were helped by colleagues within government departments – even those traditionally wary of working with universities – building goodwill along the way. We undertook research on economic impact and always sought ways to allow the voices of students themselves to be heard. To our delight, universities and other organisations across the UK responded.

“Over the past five years, our films have been used internationally by the British Council and UUKi, shared by embassies and endorsed by the GREAT campaign, as well as embedded on the websites of universities across the UK. We have held public events in parliament, supported the foundation of an All Party Parliamentary Group on International Students and lobbied for change. What began as an idea in the Red Deer pub is now used as a short-hand for the value we place on our international community.”

Having said this, nobody could have foreseen the impact of the EU referendum on the campaign and its central importance to UK higher education. A recent survey of international students carried out by Hobsons noted that 84 per cent of prospective international students say campaigns such as #WeAreInternational positively influence their perception of the UK, and that the higher education sector should build upon and expand these efforts to encourage international students to keep on coming to the UK.

According to founder Sir Keith Burnett: “#WeAreInternational has become an important campaign to our staff in ways we did not imagine. As someone who was taught by scholars who had come to the UK from Europe during the war and who then went on to work as a scientist in the US, I knew just how vital international mobility is to our universities.

“But I did not imagine how very important it would become to my own dear colleagues to be clearly and openly speaking out on this issue. I am enormously grateful to all those who have helped strengthen this message, from journalists to teachers and colleagues of all parties in parliament. We have not yet succeeded in our aims, but we have never been more committed to standing firm with teachers, researchers, students and professional colleagues from around the world.”

lucy 500-300 David Hodgins - Placement Team Manager

Above left: Dr Lucy Zhao, Director of Sheffield Confucius Institute and Miles Stevenson, Director of Advancement / Right: David Hodgins – Placement Team Manager, Careers Service

Recognition for a campaign that matters

#WeAreInternational is a shared campaign which focuses on the vital importance of welcoming talent from around the world. Its uniquely collaborative approach within and beyond the sector has been honoured by awards both within higher education and more widely.

2017 CASE award – Gold

The campaign was awarded gold in the advocacy campaigns category at the CASE Circle of Excellence Awards 2017.

The judges were really impressed by the #WeAreInternational campaign especially its extensive outreach and the way it has brought together fellow higher education institutions, higher education associations and the business community with a shared mission and values. The video, produced and distributed for the campaign, was acknowledged as being a key reason for the campaign’s success.

THELMA – highly commended

The campaign also received highly commended status at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards (THELMAs).

Shortlisted for:
• CIPR PRide awards: Education Communication Campaign (results announced in November 2017)
• PIEoneer Awards: Marketing Campaign of the Year (results announced in September 2017)
• HEIST Awards: Best Use of Innovation in Education Marketing
• HR Excellence Awards: Most Effective Use of Internal Communications