#WeAreInternational parliamentary event champions the contribution of international students

Abdi-Aziz Suleiman

On Tuesday this week (4 July 2017) we hosted a #WeAreInternational event in parliament, which saw representatives from businesses, higher education and student organisations join forces to highlight the economic, social and educational contributions that international students make to the UK.

The event aimed to explain to MPs and peers why it is in the UK’s national interest to create policies that welcome more international students to study and work in the UK.

Along with the Students’ Union we established the #WeAreInternational campaign in 2013 to celebrate and highlight the importance of our diverse international student and staff communities. The campaign is now supported by more than 160 universities and organisations across the UK and has also been able to offer support to a rapidly growing sister campaign in the US – #YouAreWelcomeHere – which was originally inspired by our work.

We need to see international students for what they are – a precious part of our universities and society

President and vice-chancellor

Speaking at the event, our President and Vice-Chancellor, and co-founder of the #WeAreInternational campaign, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, said: “We need to see international students for what they are – a precious part of our universities and society. They are people who contribute knowledge and skills. They train in our hospitals and give generously to charities in cities across the UK. They are vital to our businesses and economy. Our students, our colleagues and our friends.”

Guests also heard a moving story from international student Mihaela Gruia from Romania who studied at our University and has now set up a successful business contributing to the city and UK economy. They also heard from #WeAreInternational co-founder Abdi-Aziz Suleiman, who was a child refugee from Somalia. Both spoke of the transformational impact of a welcoming UK and their commitment to giving back above and beyond the opportunities they received.

Another speaker was Lord Karan Bilimoria of Chelsea, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Students and the founder of the highly successful Cobra Beer. He described being the third generation of his family to study in the UK following in the footsteps of his grandfather who was one of the first Indians to study at Sandhurst, but he noted with deep regret the severe decline in talented Indian students coming to the UK, concerned by a lack of welcome and post study work opportunities.

He said: “The UK needs to remain open to the world to retain its place in the top six largest economies in the world and maintain its status as a global power. Not only is freedom of movement between the UK and its trading partners vital to ensure the right trade deals for UK businesses, but our universities are an asset to the country precisely because they bring people from around the world to become friends, family and lifelong ambassadors for the UK.”

Professor Rebecca Hughes, Director of Education at the British Council, and Neil Carberry, Director of People and Skills at the CBI, told the delegates at the event how:

  • £25.8 billion is generated for the UK through on and off-campus spending by international students and their visitors (Universities UK, 2017)
  • Spending by international students supported 206,000 jobs all over the UK (Universities UK, Oxford Economics report)
  • Two thirds (64 per cent) of British adults think international students have a positive impact on the local economics of the towns and cities in which they study (ComRes, April 2017).
  • Almost one in seven countries around the world has a prime minister or head of state who studied in a UK higher education institution (British Council, 2014)

The event was hosted by the House of Commons by Co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Students, Paul Blomfield MP and Lord Bilimoria.