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Commission warns of international diversity decline for UK universities

A new report is calling for internationalisation at home to be a central part of the UK's next higher education strategy, as it warns of a decline in international diversity within universities.
October 24 2023
3 Min Read

A new report is calling for internationalisation at home to be a central part of the UK’s next higher education strategy, as it warns of a decline in international diversity within universities.

The report, released by the International Higher Education Commission, in its title asks ‘Is the UK developing global mindsets?’ and goes on to warn of the hollowing out of “international” capacity and capability on UK campuses.

Chairman of IHEC and former universities minister Chris Skidmore said the issue of internationalisation at home has in the past been “under-appreciated”.

By definition the report describes IaH as “the purposeful integration of international and intercultural dimensions into the formal and informal curriculum of all students within the domestic learning environment”.

“Our evidence taken over the past year has shown that the UK’s international education offer simply can’t be about attracting international students to the UK,” Skidmore continued.

“We need to ensure that campuses are international with attractive international based curriculums, exchange programs and inclusive facilities that ensure international students want to study in the UK because we offer the best courses compared to competitor countries.”

Exploring the challenges and opportunities of ensuring that the UK is globally engaged, the report suggests the growth in overseas student numbers in recent times has not been accompanied by an increase in diversity.

Instead, it found that diversity has been reduced because of the loss of incoming Erasmus+ exchange students and a continuing decline in the study of foreign languages by UK students.

“We need to think deeper and broader about what we must offer as the UK experience,” said Skidmore.

“That means thinking more about how campuses and courses are more relevant, more purposeful to the modern international world that all students will be eventually working in” he continued.

“IaH is the cornerstone of preparing the upcoming generation of UK and international university students for a more interconnected and promising future,” said Anthony Manning, co-author of the report and dean for global and lifelong learning at the University of Kent.

“IaH should be a key feature of the next iteration of the UK’s international education strategy as part of developing a unique national approach,” said Manning, who has previously told The PIE of IaH’s importance.

The report is the latest from IHEC in a series informing the development of a new strategy for higher education in the UK.

Skidmore, who published the UK’s International Higher Education Strategy in 2019, went on to establish IHEC to “create a new strategy with a bolder, more detailed vision and ambition than what has gone before”.

David Pilsbury, co-author of the report and chief development officer at Oxford International, is one of multiple sector leaders who have been warning in recent years that the “almost universal good times will not last” – and that the UK sector ought to prepare for harder times to come.

Speaking to The PIE, Pilsbury explicitly acknowledged the UK’s offering as one that is “still fantastically competitive”.

However, he said he believes there is not enough innovation or recognition of what is happening elsewhere, giving the example of Australia – a market that is determined to “build back better” and is embracing new ways of doing business, said Pilsbury.

“[Australia] is definitely not trying to rebuild 2019 which seems to be the prevailing approach in some parts of the UK sector.”

For Pilsbury, the report highlights a need to “do better” when it comes to student experience, and importantly for all students.

He predicted some critics may question who has the money to invest in what some may call the “fluffy stuff”, but added that “this fluffy stuff drives recruitment”.

“Internationalisation at home should be a key feature of the next iteration”

He highlighted the successes of Coventry University which were outlined in the report, along with that of other UK universities.

Coventry University implemented a ‘Model for Progression for International Experience’ through its Centre for Global Engagement, from 2009 to 2017 which was a major driver for international recruitment and global engagement, according to the report.

Pilsbury has foreseen the need for a more nuanced approach to a future higher education strategy, one which is less focused on trade.

International recruitment will remain a part of it, he said, but will work alongside more and better IaH, a growth in volume and sophistication – and fees – for TNE.

He said he would also like to see measurement of the quality of the international student experience including welfare and accommodation, as well as graduate employability, student mobility and SDG engagement.

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