comes from one of the seven nations affected by Donald Trump’s proposed
immigration ban – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya.
As they stood
in proud defiance bearing their nations’ flags, they told an
audience of hundreds how they felt to be international students at De Montfort
University Leicester (DMU).
It was a remarkable moment to witness, made even more
poignant by the fact that it was the finale to DMU’s 24-hour #loveInternational
vigil. Around the clock, and in sometimes sub-zero temperatures, students and
staff shared stories, lectures, poetry and performances which demonstrated how
they felt about intolerance and anti-immigration rhetoric.
But what would motivate hundreds of students and staff
to spend 24 hours of their own time to do this? The answer is simple.
DMU’s #loveInternational campaign has become a
movement, a call to action. We relish every opportunity to show how we live up
to DMU and our sector’s core values of diversity, inclusiveness and
And #loveInternational has resonated with EU students.
While the sector as a whole has seen a fall in EU student applications, those
to DMU has increased significantly.
How did that happen? While our message that
international students and staff were vital to the lifeblood of any university
may not have been original, our approach certainly was.
Less than a month after the EU Referendum result, we
launched a series of international events in five EU capitals – Nicosia,
Warsaw, Stockholm, Vilnius and Berlin.
Led by me or our Deputy Vice Chancellor, we brought
current students from each country, contacted alumni, leveraged our existing
overseas networks and met prospective students and higher education
professionals in person.
Just being able to reassure people and address some of
the rumours they had heard – that EU students were being stopped from coming
into the country, for example – and discuss their fears and concerns openly
made each visit worthwhile.
The visits also attracted press attention, where we
faced tough questions over the outcome of the EU vote. In Warsaw, we answered
angry questions over hate crimes and even if all we could say in answer was a
firm and unequivocal 'not in our name', at least we were there to say it.
I believe one of the reasons the Remain campaign lost
was that it failed to convince people that staying in the EU would help
them. Put simply, the Leave camp told a better story.
So when planning these events, we made sure that we
told plenty of stories: of life in diverse, welcoming Leicester; how graduates
from Poland thrived at DMU and had gone on to enjoy superb careers; and how we
cherish international research and scholarship. We gave potential applicants
the chance to speak to current students.
In Poland, we have seen applications rise 70%
following our activities.
Medical Science graduate Lukasz Lagoida told us: 'It is wonderful to see that kind of
'I think DMU
has responded very quickly after this referendum vote to come out and actually
meet students in these countries. I think it’s very important that this message
Since then we have taken #loveInternational to
Denmark, India and China, where we engaged with more potential applicants. We
also took more than 1,000 students and staff from 46 countries to New York on
our largest overseas visit to date.
We are already planning to take up to 1,500 students
to Berlin in June, where we will engage with universities and city leaders and
I will attempt to deliver a speech in my (hopefully not so) rusty German about
our sector’s desire for positive and enduring future relationships with Germany.
However, we are under no illusions. EU student numbers
will fall in coming years as Article 50 is triggered and the doubtless messy
In such circumstances, there is no magic bullet which
will ensure that international students will continue to want to study in
Britain. However, our experience suggests the benefits and the power of
immediate and targeted action.
Yes, it has been several months of long hours and hard
graft for many at DMU – queuing to check in at 4am in Ahmedabad airport is no
fun – but I believe that #loveInternational has made DMU a stronger university.
Since the EU referendum and the election of Donald Trump,
it is easy to feel powerless in the face of world events.
Hearteningly, #loveInternational has empowered all of us – staff, students,
alumni and our global network of partners, to take action.
As the Gandhi Global Family’s representative to the
United Nations, I am particularly influenced by Gandhi’s life and sayings.
Gandhi made the following profound observation – and this inspired me to create
#LoveInternational at 4am on the morning of 24 June 2016:
the action, not the fruit of the action, that is important. You have to do the
right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that
there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing.
You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing,
there will be no result.'
This photograph of our students shows that at DMU, we
are attempting to do something.