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Renew lobbying efforts, says #WeAreInternational

The creators of the UK’s #WeAreInternational campaign have urged the higher education sector to refresh its commitment to change the government’s policy around international student visas.

We Are International, Keith Burnett, University of Sheffield"There needs to be a final push" said Keith Burnett, vice chancellor of the University of Sheffield. Photo: WeAreInternational.

"The local communities are really scared that the visas will impact the business they’ve built for international students"

Keith Burnett, vice chancellor at the University of Sheffield, where the campaign started, took stock of its successes so far, which include being adopted by 160 UK universities and organisations, and reaching 120,000 views of its video. He then called for a doubling down of its mission.

“We are here to remind a room much bigger than this that they matter. That they mean something to us”

“It means an awful lot to our students and staff to know people in this place are actually working so seriously for it… I think that we do have to make a final push though,” said Burnett at an event at the Houses of Parliament attended by higher education and business leaders as well as international students.

“We keep making the arguments about the economy, important arguments about soft power… but also it is very important from the point of view of the university and the academic community to emphasise the importance of talent and flow of ideas.”

Also speaking at the event, Abdi Aziz-Suleiman, a refugee from Somalia, former University of Sheffield Students’ Union president (2012-13) and #WeAreInternational co-founder, said the sector needs to react to new realities.

“We are here to remind a room much bigger than this that they matter. That they mean something to us.”

Hobsons’ recent International Student Survey also showed the campaign’s positive influence on the UK’s reputation among prospective international students. But while it may have stalled further negative policies, campaign supporters say they have not seen the changes they want to see: specifically a shift in the government’s stance on post-study work rights or moves to take international students out of net migration figures.

“We’ve won the argument, we’ve yet to win the policy change,” Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield, told delegates.

The university showed its second campaign video, which showcases business owners and residents of Sheffield speaking about the benefits of the 10% inward investment international students bring to the community.

“It’s not that big of an economy [in Sheffield and south Yorkshire] and for people at the centre of that economy, losing international students is a big change,” Burnett told The PIE News.

“The local communities are really scared that the visas will impact the business they’ve built for international students.”

The project’s first film showed international students on campus speaking about their experiences of studying in the UK. It was viewed at least 120,000 times and downloaded by partners for their own use. The university has also created a free media kit for any organisation to use.

In addition to being supported by higher education organisations and bodies in the UK, the campaign and hashtag have won the support of UK embassies and consulates from countries including Algeria, Brazil, Finland, Ghana, Slovenia and Venezuela.

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