Attracting more than 580 colleagues and stakeholders from across the globe, the event in Scotland’s capital Edinburgh heard from BC China’s regional head of research and consultancy, Matt Durnin, who reminded the audience of the “positive position” the UK finds itself in.
“We really need to be building foundations that could last through those tumultuous times”
“Our main competitor is significantly weakened,” he said. “We have a very attractive post-study work offer coming along the line, and, before that is even enacted, we see strong growth in key markets.”
However, institutions need to take advantage of short-term opportunities to “build something that will outlast the current conditions”, he continued.
“Look around the world at the massive shift in geopolitics in that last couple of years we have to be wary of some of the things that could change, when we look at how reliant we are on certain markets.
“We need to be building foundations that could last through those tumultuous times,” he added.
Despite the UK’s promising position, managing director (CEO) of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Robin Bew, noted a rise in tensions around the world that could affect the international education market.
“You see [president] Donald Trump putting pressure on countries all around the world to drive a US-centric agenda,” he explained.
“There is a sense that the world is becoming a lot more transactional and much less cooperative.”
Businesses previously able to steer clear of politics are now having to make a shift, and that goes for education institutions too, Bew added.
“Saying that ‘politics has nothing to do with us, we are here to do business or education’ – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain that stance.”
Universities are also going to need to change to meet the demands of a new type of student in Generation Z, historian of contemporary values and generations Eliza Filby noted.
“Generation Z [born between 1997-2000], more than any other generation, are going to need more degrees to get through what is looking like a 60-year working life.
“If you can be that counsel on the job market, if you can offer them that personalised, curated career advice, that will be as valuable to them as the actual degree,” she told delegates.
And Generation Z requires a “much more sophisticated” narrative and level of marketing, Filby explained, with students wishing to know how organisations’ values fit with their values.
“These kids are asking very difficult questions, and I think you need to be prepared to have the right answers,” she said.
One value that is expected to sound a chord with Generation Z is the environmental impact of institutions, explained deputy principal and professor of international history at the University of Stirling, Neville Wylie.
“The attention on all of our activities next year will be intense,” he told delegates.
Additionally, Filby suggested that universities should also be aware of changes in attitude in the next wave of graduates.
“This is the generation who are very conscious of being mis-sold something,” she said, citing a case of a graduate who sued a UK institution for ‘false-advertising’.
“I think you are liable to see more and more of that amongst Generation Z because they are so much more aware of their rights and their expectations as consumers,” she warned.
“This is the generation who are very conscious of being mis-sold something”
Universities will need to work extra hard to recruit students that want an “almost unrealistic level of personal engagement”.
“This is a generation that has too much choice, so for you to secure that student you need to give them a sense of ongoing dialogue… [and] that has to be personalised and easy.”
Generation Z also sees face-to-face education as the “premium product”, Filby continued.
It is acutely felt among international students that they are almost second class citizens within the university,” she said.
“This generation is really starting to prize human contact, and so how international students are treated [must be] on par with home students.
“There should be almost a declassification of that divide.”