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UK HE “could do better”, says Saudi Cultural Attaché

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Attaché used his platform speaking at the International Higher Education Forum in London to chide the UK HE sector into improving some aspects of its higher education offer, despite providing an assurance that in general, the high level of quality provision is appreciated by the Saudi student community.

"If 30% of international students stay and pay taxes, this offsets the cost of providing study places without tuition fees for 100% of all international students"

Inadequate help and supervision with projects and assignments, low levels of face-to-face teaching at Master’s level and some students at undergraduate level with insufficient levels of English were some of the charges levelled at the sector.

Using slides detailing some of the complaints, Dr Faisal Abaalkhail spoke of the “impact of fast growth on perception”.

Other particular problems that he referred to included students not being notified about formal complaints procedures, with some universities discouraging students from complaining. Long delays in providing feedback to progress research work and a query over appropriate bench fees were also raised.

He finished his address by saying “The problems and difficulties highlighted need to be addressed to ensure continued and jointly beneficial partnership with institutions of higher education in the UK”.

Abaalkhail referred to a comment made by Sir Drummond Bone: “Even if recruitment to the UK remains an objective, it will increasingly have to take place in a context of bilateral and multicultural understanding”.

Some of his points did in fact chime with comments made at the Universities Australia conference by Gary Banks, who spoke of “a truth that only occasionally dares to speak its name” when referring to “rumours and anecdotes of easy teaching”. Although uncomfortable, the comments were noted by an audience of university leaders who will nearly all receive some benefactors of the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme (KASP).

Also at the IHE Forum, less uncomfortable and more awe-inspiring, was a speech made by DAAD’s Sebastian Fohrbeck, director of scholarship programmes, who likened Germany’s DAAD to “the International Unit, but with money”, causing ripples of amusement.

Fohrbeck provided inspiration about how Germany approaches internationalisation

Fohrbeck provided inspiration about how Germany approaches internationalisation

Fohrbeck spoke about Germany’s attitude to student immigration and the fact it does not charge any fees to international students as is the case for domestic students.

He pointed out that almost 50% of international students stay and work in Germany, and highlighted a Prognos study indicating that if 30% of international students stay and pay taxes, this offsets the cost of providing study places without tuition fees for 100% of all international students.

Later, he told The PIE News that there has never been political discussion to charge differential fees for non-EU, as some countries in Scandinavia have done.

“I think this is linked to cultural policy after WWII to try to reconnect with the world, and then a perspective of helping developing countries, and then we also saw this as part of our export strategy, to foster political and economic networks,” he said.

He explained Germany’s big outbound goal to encourage 50% of German students to study overseas too.

Other highlights of a packed conference included some data diving by Janet Ilieva of HEFCE, who explained how the changing demographics of the international student population are influencing course uptake.

Chinese students studying creative arts, for example, are up from 14% to 41% since 2007, while the acknowledged decline in South Asian students means that computer science enrolments have “fallen off a cliff”.

Opening the event, Martin Donnelly from BIS acknowledged, “We are very aware of the strength of feeling on visa policy” and he added that government wanted to take a long-term view on ensuring all international students get a good education in the UK.

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