In the same week that UK universities minister Sam Gyimah pledged his support for the reintroduction of a post-study work visa, around 700 delegates from 50 countries attended the three-day education showcase to discuss concerns and trends impacting study abroad professionals across the globe.
“We should be celebrating the number of students that come”
Address the crowd at the opening reception, UKCISA chief executive Dominic Scott reminded delegates of the “enormous and priceless” benefits that international students bring to the UK.
“The total worth of international students coming to the UK is over £20bn, the income of students coming to language schools is £1.5bn and it supports 35,000 jobs – these are important statistics and we have got to remember it,” he said.
“But on top of that, I hope what you see when you look into the eyes of young people [is] people who want to widen their horizons and progress. They come to the UK… for the opportunity of a pathway to progression, and it is important to reflect on that.”
Keynote speaker, journalist Lindsey Hilsum, told delegates to continue working to bridge divides, bring people together and make cultural connections.
“There is a face of Britain today which is very unwelcoming, and which is quite prejudiced, you are the face of Britain which is not that,” she said.
“You are the face of Britain which is welcoming, understanding and thoughtful.”
Speaking at English UK London‘s reception in the House of Commons, Ed Vaizey MP echoed Scott’s emphasis on the significance of international students visiting the country and the importance of cultural connections.
“Not only should we welcome [students] with open arms, but we should also recognise that they are bringing great investment to the UK,” Vaizey suggested.
“You want Britain to be an open and international country that welcomes students”
“We should be celebrating the number of students that come here and it should be a cause of great concern that we have seen numbers grow exponentially in countries like the US and Australia and barely move in the UK.”
Vaizey added that students should be removed from the UK’s migration figures, a popular sentiment in the sector, and one many hope the soon-to-be-released MAC report will recommend.
“You want Britain to be an open and international country that welcomes students to the UK to enjoy the best English language programs in the world and study at our world-class universities and colleges.”
Mark Rendell, vice chair of English UK London and principal of St Giles London Central, listed the UK capital’s advantages and shared a video extolling its virtues for students.
“London is a global city; it’s welcoming, it’s where you can be yourself, it’s where you can feel at home and make a home,” he summed up.
But the industry cannot be complacent and cannot take its status as the world’s favourite English language destination for granted, he added.
Market insights were another key focal point for attendees during English UK’s flagship event, with seminars provided by experts including British Council, BELTA and English UK into current trends and the best ways to do business in China, Brazil and across the Gulf Region.
Several agents spoke to The PIE News about the continued popularity of the UK as a study destination, with one Beijing agent highlighting the growing demand for short-term programs among Chinese students.
Despite political tension between Russia and the UK earlier in the year, one agent, Irina Zakharova of Jey Study said they have “no problems working with the UK” and that Brexit has not deterred students from wanting to study in the UK.
Meanwhile, education attachés at the event highlighted issues that GDPR has caused since being introduced earlier this year.
“Data protection is all very well and data protection is great in theory,” said Angela Cleary, head of private students section, Office of Educational Affairs at the Royal Thai Embassy.
“But in practice, it has caused so much of a problem.”
When the embassy tries to contact the student via international offices, GDPR regulations have prohibited the offices sharing information.
Zainal Abidin Sanusi, director of Education Malaysia United Kingdom & Ireland, said “too much honouring” of data protection is making his job more difficult.
“In emergency cases, when we want to get details of our own students that we fund and the international office says ‘we can’t give that unless you get consent’,” he said.
Additional reporting by Kerrie Kennedy