Meanwhile, sector bodies UUK International, BUILA and UKCISA, have published a plea for government support in three key areas to ensure the country retains its competitive edge amid uncertainty for international students.
Smith will help lead the UK sector’s efforts to offer a world-leading student experience and to communicate it internationally. This will include tackling barriers to education exports, and the need to offer an open and welcoming message to overseas students.
“We believe he can play a key role in emphasising to the government the need for action”
UK universities minister, Michelle Donelan, announced Smith’s appointment during the British Council’s Going Global webinar, and said the international student community is “vital to the fabric of the UK”.
“We all feel so distanced in many ways right now but as a nation, we want our doors to remain open to international students,” Donelan told delegates.
“But I want to underline our commitment to our international students further,” Donelan added.
“So today, I can announce today that I have appointed an International Education Champion and am delighted to tell you that sir Steve Smith has accepted the role.
“As many of you will already know, sir Steve has huge experience in the higher education sector, holding a number of prominent positions, most notably as the vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Exeter.
“I have no doubt that his energy and passion for the role will mirror that of the UK’s towards international students,” she said.
President of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, Julia Buckingham, described the appointment of Smith to international education champion as “fantastic news” for the sector.
“We believe he can play a key role in emphasising to the government the need for action,” she said.
“His understanding of and relationships with overseas markets will be critically important in helping to develop these strong international relationships, which are more important now than ever.”
To help develop these relationships, UUKi with other sector bodies is calling on the government to take action to ensure the visa system allows for flexible and blended approaches to teaching this autumn, which will be necessary in order to maintain social distancing and safety on campuses.
In a statement, it said the government must make clear to international students in the next few weeks that they can still have confidence in studying at UK universities, otherwise, the UK risks losing them to overseas competitors.
“We have a short window to convince undecided applicants that they can plan with confidence to study in the UK this autumn. This needs action by government as well as universities,” added Buckingham.
“Prospective students can be assured that the top priority for our universities is ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of all students and staff in the new academic year. Now assurances must be given that new ways of learning will not penalise them now or in the future.”
UUK is asking government to: