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British Council muses on market volatility of global higher ed

China’s trade war with the US and unbalanced growth within Australia – not to mention growth challenges in Canada – were among the hot topics discussed at the newly re-named International Education Services Conference.

The conference dinner was held under the wings of Concorde, emblazoned with the British Council branding. Photo: British Council

Tsiligiris and Kostova explained Balkan nations are keen to link with UK HEIs

The British Council gave its advice for 2019 and beyond to collected international recruitment professionals at UK universities in Manchester. Formerly SIEM, IES saw discussions on recruitment and other internationalisation options across Europe and the world.

But the name of the conference itself wasn’t the only change in the cold northern air. A theme running through various sessions, keynotes and lunch-break discussions was the tumultuous time, politically and economically, that the international education industry finds itself operating in.

Matt Durnin, head of insights at the British Council, gave a popular “Around the World in 60 Minutes” address, which looked at PIE News headlines, as well as data from across the range of global stakeholders and record-keepers, to show the changing face and space the recruitment industry operates in.

But amid obvious changes in the market (“Something happened in 2016 and the pound followed the Aussie dollar vs the US dollar” he joked at one point), Durnin’s message was more complex than the name of the conference may suggest.

Despite some coverage revealing the true volatility of the Australian market, Durnin noted the Southern hemisphere’s leading market, along with the growing Canadian sector, is still seen as a ‘promised land’ of sorts. He went on to warn against this view (“I’d be quite happy to [stay] in the UK right now”), and even remarked that Canada is “fighting for scraps”.

A similar discussion took place on the second day, as Robin Bew of The Economist Intelligence Unit led a lecture on the key points of the global economy, as far as recruiters should be concerned.

One key movement, which Bew argued could not be overlooked despite the temptation to do so, is the impact of US sanctions and “trade war” against China – the global leader in mobile students.

Although typified by Trumpian bluster, these embargoes and levies have actually had a material effect on Chinese society, Bew argued, and could well affect not only student recruitment but HE in China. Coupled with the allegations of intellectual property theft, which has already prompted some to suggest cutting STEM visas, Bew warned of losses to the Chinese economy and a shrinking of the coastal middle class.

But far from leaving delegates downcast, the individual sessions sought to show the bright areas in the global education landscape.

Though in-country staff were generally upbeat on prospects, both the German education lead Ailsa Kienberger and her colleague Lyubov Kostova in Bulgaria, stood out as representatives of education systems with opportunities for international partnerships and agreements.

Along with Nottingham Trent academic and TNE expert Vangelis Tsiligiris, Kostova explained how the Balkans were keen to make more solid links with UK HEIs, especially in the STEM field. Germany is more research-focused, according to Kienberger, who noted that institutions outside of Berlin must be considered as viable partners, despite the “technical” label that many carry.

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