The international higher education sector has been buzzing following the recent HEPI report on the economic contributions of international students in the UK.
And there is every reason to talk about the findings related to the economic contribution of this group of students, as that equals to £41.9 billion, which is a number that would be too hard to miss.
However, even though it is important to mention this and highlight this massive contribution to the UK economy, it is even more important to realise the real people, stories and cultural contribution which goes well beyond any numerical value and enriches the community way beyond just the profit.
As an international student, I feel obliged to remind people that we need to look beyond numbers and show interest in learning about how this diverse group of people enriches the community here, in the UK.
Every student who came to the UK from a different country with the intention of pursuing a degree, learning something new and getting a higher education qualification, also unconsciously gives back to the community by being here, interacting with others and bringing a new worldview.
Every. Single. One.
There are almost 700.000 international students in the UK now, which equates to 700.000 different stories, worldviews and ways of living.
I can guarantee that there is no one story quite like the other, and every single one of these 700.000 people came to the UK from a completely different background, with a completely different set of values and beliefs, and a completely different story.
And these stories are so worth-while.
There is the story of a Lithuanian student who sacrifices her free time to volunteer and spend time with children with disabilities in her local community.
Or a Spanish student who is so passionate about sharing his unique art that it is getting international recognition.
A Slovakian student who uses her free time to create campaigns and raise funds for different charities to raise awareness of different societal issues.
An Indonesian student who brings other Indonesian students together to organise regular showcases of their culture and spread the love for their country.
A Chinese student who voluntarily teaches music to young people and shares her joy for this subject.
An Indian student who despite of having studied in multiple countries around the world, came to the UK and drawing from his experiences is actively trying to help improve the sector for other international students.
And there is even a British student who got so inspired by all these different stories and worldviews that she wants to contribute by working in the international higher education sector to support this group of students in the future.
Contributions beyond cash
These examples are just snippets of 7 different stories, 7 different faces and 7 different lives. Multiply it by 100.000 and you’ll get the idea of how much contribution we make and how much we actually give back.
We give back to the community by sacrificing our free time and volunteering, fundraising for charities, sharing our passions and spreading the joy, teaching others about our cultures, inspiring other students and professionals alike, and enriching the country in many other colourful ways.
Many of us have left everything we had known behind, including people, places and things to pursue our dreams abroad. We as international students come here to study, but we end up helping the UK and its citizens become a global community in return.
We bring our languages, our food, our customs, our traditions and parts of our countries. We bring the world to you, and consequently you have parts of the whole world at your doorstep.
Regardless of whether some of us decide to stay and create a home in the UK or return to our countries of origin and use all the invaluable experiences in our own local communities – we leave an imprint on the communities we engage with, help the UK become a country with a global mindset and expand the UK’s global connections and network. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.
The true value of diversity
I personally moved to the UK because I was fascinated by the multicultural society and co-existence of multiple cultures, religions and nationalities in one place. I recognised how precious this was as an “outsider” and I wish that the people in the UK also recognise how precious it is to live in a country in which you can experience and learn from so many cultures without ever needing to travel far.
Such a global community in which one can coexist with completely different individuals is not commonplace. So I urge you to realise it and engage with international students to learn more.
Have you ever seen the pure joy international students showcase during different festivals of cultures at different institutions? Have you ever witnessed the sparks in our eyes when we can talk about and share our cultures with others? Have you ever truly engaged and interacted with an international student, from a place of a curious mind?
If not, I’d urge you to do so.
Even though it might be more difficult to listen to stories than look at numbers. Even though it might be more difficult to challenge your own perceptions and beliefs. And it might be more difficult to understand such complexity, it is essential.
It is essential to realise the massive cultural and global contribution that international students make in the UK – part of the reason that the#WeAreInternational campaign has been relaunched.
I strongly believe that the UK would be so very different without us – without international students. And I suspect it would not be a difference that would be advantageous, but quite the opposite.
And please, when discussing the economic contributions international students make, also think about all the other aspects of the UK that we enrich. We bring more than just the money, and we are more than just numbers on a spreadsheet.