They are sometimes seen as cash cows to bolster UK institutions' finances, but the wide-ranging contribution that overseas students make to campus life has been highlighted by the British Council.
Launching its annual Shine! - the International Student Awards - this week, the council said that a study of previous finalists shows that many foreign students are involved in providing teaching, technical, pastoral and careers support to UK peers as well as overseas colleagues.
"At a time when there is so much focus on the way higher education is funded, it is important to remember that international students are worth so much more to us than the significant contribution they make to the UK economy and the financial health of our institutions," said Pat Killingley, director of higher education at the British Council.
Phil Baty, deputy editor of Times Higher Education, the awards' media partner, said: "Any serious 21st-century university has to be truly global, drawing both staff and students from the international community and routinely operating across borders. We're delighted to help celebrate the contribution made by overseas students."
In the eight years since it began, more than 13,000 students have entered the competition, which requires them to write a "letter home" about their UK study experiences.
Previous finalists include Dionna Tong, from Singapore, a student at the University of Bristol. She signed up as a student ambassador for Bristol's widening-participation scheme and ran courses for other students in time-management and communication skills.
Armineh Soorenian from Iran became president of the University of Leeds' Disabled Students Society and based her PhD on the experiences of disabled students from overseas. She was elected academic representative for Leeds' doctoral students.
Selina Hennedige, from Singapore, overcame serious injury as a teenager to complete her education, and joined a night-time counselling programme at the University of Southampton to help others.
"My own journey meant it was easy to empathise," she said.