The financial importance of international students to UK universities is well documented, but the British Council is seeking to draw attention to the many other contributions that they make to the academy and the wider community.
The annual Shine! – International Student Awards have attracted entries from more than 12,500 foreign students since their inception in 2002.
The best-represented countries are China, India and the US, reflecting the demographics of British universities’ foreign intake, but entries have also been received from students hailing from a range of other countries, from Burkina Faso in West Africa to Suriname in South America.
The finalists in the running for the 2010 award will find out how they have fared later this month when the overall winner is announced at a ceremony in London.
To enter, students were asked to write a personal “letter home” in English, detailing the out-of-class achievements that have made their time in the UK rewarding.
In his letter, Everardo Gutiérrez-Enríquez, the Yorkshire regional finalist, says he was “definitely a ‘Billy no mates’” at the start of his course at the University of Huddersfield.
But the Mexican student goes on to describe how, by getting involved with on-campus societies, his circumstances changed.
“I am so very popular, and ‘as happy as a pig in mud’,” he writes.
Another finalist, Zengguo Jin, the South East regional winner, says she feels different from her compatriots at the University of Southampton because “most Chinese students don’t normally take part in societies and talk to British people”.
She explains: “They are too shy. I think that it’s not the British who think Chinese students’ English is poor; it is the Chinese who think their English is poor.”
Astrid Tishler, the North West regional winner, describes in her letter how she enhanced her institution by bringing a little bit of her native Estonia to the University of Manchester.
She says: “I started organising sponsorships from two Estonian breweries to be delivered to Manchester so that Estonian beers and ciders could be tasted by my friends in the UK.”
A fourth finalist, Francesco Egro – an Italian studying at the University of Bristol – says: “If you want to reach the stars, you just have to want it…education is the most powerful tool for achieving greatness.”
The 12 regional finalists will find out who has been named International Student of the Year 2010 at the ceremony on 22 April.