Lil Bremermann-Richard, CEO of Oxford International, shared her perspective on the value of international students in the UK going forward, which has been a controversial topic in UK government rhetoric and media in 2022.
“International students have been consistently undervalued and under-appreciated in the role they play both in supporting our world-class higher education system and in the immense contribution they make to our society,” said Bremermann-Richard.
“If we are to learn anything from 2022 and realise the benefits of an open, inclusive and global higher education system in 2023 and beyond, we must see a paradigm shift in both the conversation and the policies towards international students.”
Bremermann-Richard highlighted the financial value of international students to the UK economy – a whopping annual £28.8bn – but also noted “the very human impact these ambitious and enterprising people have on our institutions and the communities around them”.
“Unless we recognise international students as the extraordinary asset they are, we risk losing our global reputation as a leading centre of academic excellence” she added.
“Having been an international student myself and seeing first-hand the motives for why students wish to travel, live and learn in the UK, there, quite frankly, needs to be a complete shift in the perception of international students.”
“The trend of increasing digitalisation looks set only to continue”
Looking ahead, Bremermann-Richard predicts the digital transformation of the sector to be increasingly prominent and said that in order for the UK to position itself at the forefront of academic excellence, it is fundamental that leaders and stakeholders harness “the power of digital”.
However, Bremermann-Richard is concerned that institutions will continue to struggle to keep pace, which she said presents an existential threat for the future resilience of the international education sector.
Oxford International CEO, Lil Bremermann-Richard, predicts digital transformation could be an issue for UK institutions.
“Looking forward to 2023, effective digitalisation has the power to transform the efficiency of back-end processes, as well as student experience – empowering both institutions and individuals to prosper.
“From attracting the very best talent, to offering clear and high-quality pathways to access courses, to delivering the very best education, the trend of increasing digitalisation looks set only to continue. We ignore this fact at our peril, but if we can truly embrace it, we could kick-start a new, global, golden age for our sector and those who study in it.”
For the New Zealand international education sector, 2023 will be a year of renewal, according to Grant McPherson, CEO of Education New Zealand.
The refresh of the New Zealand International Education Strategy announced in August 2022 captures the challenges the country’s sector faced due to the pandemic and closed borders, and provides a framework for all participants in the sector to navigate the years ahead to 2030.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are at the forefront of Education New Zealand’s strategy for the new year, and are driven by an “increasing awareness of our place in the world”, said McPherson.
“This involves awareness of our Indigenous people, and those of other countries around the world. It involves a willingness to reach out and learn from each other by placing an Indigenous lens over everything we do.”
The approach aligns with Education New Zealand’s commitment to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi [the Treaty of Waitangi] and has “also informed the development of our internationalisation framework”, he added.
Similarly to Bremermann-Richard, McPherson touched upon the importance of public perception of the value of international students in New Zealand in 2023.
“In addition to any economic benefit, we emphasise the importance of cultural exchange, personal growth of students and their contribution in many other ways to the communities in which they live. This is an important part of preparing students, both international and New Zealand, by developing their skills to meet the future.”
In May 2022, Education New Zealand conducted a survey which showed that 73% of those surveyed felt that international education benefits New Zealand, with contribution to local businesses during time of study being the top-ranking benefit of international students.
However, the biggest challenge going forward will be to rebuild the international education sector within New Zealand, said McPherson.
“But I prefer to view this as more of an opportunity,” he added.
According to McPherson, student applications for positions in schools and tertiary providers have bounced back from the historically low levels of the past two years, aided by efforts in 2022 to spread the word that New Zealand’s borders are open.
“We still have a long way to go to fully rebuild the sector, but the early signs are very encouraging.The years ahead will be challenging, but the overarching direction is clear.”
“We still have a long way to go to fully rebuild the sector, but the early signs are very encouraging”
Esther Brimmer, CEO of NAFSA, recently spoke to The Chronicle of Higher Education about what international education trends the sector can expect going forward and what US stakeholders should focus on, as she prepared to leave her role and join the Council on Foreign Relations as a senior fellow in global governance.
Brimmer highlighted the importance of considering students’ economic constraints, and how the sector should react to an economic recession.
According to Brimmer, the US sector must also be willing to recognise “that there will be greater competition for international students”.
“The number of international students is going to continue to grow, but there’ll be more places they can go” she added.
Brimmer reiterated that the US needs a “coherent, integrated, national strategy for international education that brings together different branches of government”. Ideally, this strategy would be led by the White House, said Brimmer.
“Many of our competitors have thought very seriously about how they bring their whole-of-government resources. And we can do the same.”
As for the UK’s position in the race to attract international talent, Bremermann-Richard added that without immediate and urgent action, UK institutions risk falling down the list of where the very best talent may choose to study.
“In 2023, we have the opportunity through the government’s consultation around its ‘International Education Strategy 2.0’ to create a student-focused, high-quality offering, with a comprehensive and supportive framework for international students to study and ultimately, to thrive,” she said.
From a global perspective, Brimmer noted that climate change must be tackled and global public health systems should be reformed.
“Both of those need global cooperation, and international education is part of that, cooperation on research is part of that.”
On why she is hopeful for the future of international education, Brimmer said “the recognition that international education is for everyone is profound”.
“That should not just be a fad of this year. It should be our fundamental approach about how we think about inclusion and education.”