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UK universities fight back with #weareinternational

We Are International, a campaign launched seven years ago by one university, is quickly becoming the unified messaged from by the UK’s entire higher education sector in response to the EU referendum result.

Sheffield University's film crew films a student testimonial for the #WeAreInternational campaign video released in September. Photo: University of Sheffield.

"We know that everyone sees it as theirs"

The campaign is the brain-child of the communications team at the University of Sheffield but has now been adopted by 150 universities, students’ unions, colleges and organisations including UUKi (formerly the International Unit), in response to the EU referendum result.

The campaign was updated this summer with a new video showcasing international student testimonials about studying in the UK.

“It’s stating the obvious and we never thought that would be questioned but it is”

The university pushed the public campaign especially during the revocation of London Metropolitcan University’s highly trusted sponsor status according to Ruth Arnold, director of strategic partnerships and communications at the University of Sheffield.

The campaign’s mission to promote the value of international students on UK campuses hasn’t changed, she said, but since the referendum its reason has.

“It’s stating the obvious and we never thought that would be questioned but it is so it’s become really important for students and staff and alumni to know,” she told The PIE News.

The university has made the video available to anyone and created a toolkit that includes social media imagery as well as a #weareinternational twibbon that can be attached to social media avatars for anyone to download and use.

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The university has created a toolkit with campaign branding for anyone to download and use.

Since September, the video has been viewed over 5,500 times, and the tweet with the link to the main film put out on the @weareintl account has earned 77,200 impresssions (liked 137 times, and retweeted 172 times).

But Arnold suspects it’s being distributed even more than the campaign’s own analytics show.

“What we do know is that everyone sees it as theirs,” she said. “When you see #WeAreInternational being used with other university logos or as part of their materials, then you know it has properly grown up and left home, and will be shared much more widely as a result.”

Many universities feel their reputation as welcoming places for international students and academic staff post-Brexit has been damaged and have used the campaign to send a different message, according to Vivienne Stern, director of UUKi, the international branch of Universities UK.

“In the aftermath of the referendum it became clear to us that there should be a strong positive statement of how warm and welcoming UK universities are to international students,” she said.

“We still hear VCs reporting that students say ‘I don’t feel it’s my country anymore’. It’s hard to make a dent in that mood but we have to do our part.”

The video has been translated into foreign languages and there are plans to produce country specific versions soon.

Stern said UUKi is eager to take the campaign on the road to promote it at 16 events in and outside of Europe until December, including at study fairs organised by the British Council and Q&A sessions to respond to student’s concerns about Brexit.

In an relieving moment of clarity for the higher education sector, the UK government this week confirmed that EU students in the 2017/18 intake will still be allowed access to the university loans system and domestic student fees.

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