During the IHEF event in Nottingham, Beer outlined several clear goals:
- Increasing the number of international students in the UK
- Increasing students studying for UK awards overseas
- Increasing international research collaborations;
- Doubling the number of British students going overseas
“How do we sustain and promote our values? Higher education is a major part of that”
She was joined on a closing plenary panel by Ciaran Devane, chief executive of the British Council, Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of innovation thinktank Nesta and Sharon Ellis, representing the government’s Dept for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
All panellists agreed that a new internationalisation of education ambition led by the government would be helpful, with Ellis noting “the timing has never been clearer”.
She highlighted the work being done to focus a number of research councils into one broad body, UKRI, and underlined that the government already had a commitment to driving science and innovation as part of its industrial strategy outlined in 2017.
But she acknowledged, “What people are alluding to, getting all [government] departments aligned, does take some time, especially with the workload that is happening due to Brexit; the government is having to dedicate quite a lot of time to that.”
Ellis agreed that “international collaboration is essential [for the UK] and I don’t make a distinction between Europe and the rest of the world. We do need to [foster this] in a more collaborative manner.”
Stating that BEIS was happy to liaise with DIT and bodies such as UUK to achieve such aims, The PIE pressed Ellis on BEIS’s engagement with the Home Office too.
“We certainly engage with the Home Office,” said Ellis, noting that the MAC consultation it commissioned late last year “will bring forward ideas the government will have to consider and respond to”.
Devane at the British Council also reinforced a wider incentive beyond economic empowerment for the UK’s stepping up its internationalisation agenda.
Noting that there was a direct correlation between cultural ties with the UK and trade & investment, “people who trust the UK are more likely to trade with the UK” -Devane added, “How do we sustain and promote our values? Higher education is a major part of that.”
“[Any] strategy should focus on inward and outward mobility because that movement is critically important”
He called for an industrial strategy for HE which “isn’t just economic” and stressed that the UK should also encourage its own students to look outwards too.
Noting the success of schemes such as the Generation UK China internships, Devane called for “every young person in the UK to have an international experience in their education”, a phrase he said he hoped would weave its way into a future Prime Minister’s speech.
Ellis concurred: “[Any] strategy should focus on inward and outward mobility because that movement is critically important,” she said. “There’s been lots of programs but I take the challenge that we and other departments should make them more coherent, easier to engage with.”
As an edtech innovation expert, Mulgan told the crowd his main critique of the higher education system is that innovation “is happening rather randomly”.
Fourth-generation MOOCs and online education with tutoring, VR and AI-led learning were examples of innovation but he said that secondary-level education was smarter on analysing and sharing new learning techniques that worked.
“In sectors that really triumph in highly competitive markets, there is much more deliberate investment and orchestration of innovation and much more harvesting of the results,” he said.
“It is very hard to find anywhere what is the coherent clarity on innovation in different fields.”
Beer reminded Mulgan that in her role of vice-chancellor at the University of Liverpool, she oversaw the largest online education program in Europe via the university’s partnership with Laureate.
But she conceded, “We need to restore more collaborative working environments. We can do much more, using data and working together.”
As President of Universities UK, she is well positioned to help make that happen.