First announced at the end of 2017, the department of education’s commitment to double the funding of the scheme was reiterated by the minister for schools standards Nick Gibb in May at the Generation UK reception, jointly hosted by the British Council and the All Party Parliamentary China Group at the House of Commons in London.
Speakers included HM Ambassador to China Barbara Woodward, British Council chairman Christopher Rodrigues and chair of APPCG Richard Graham MP.
“I am a firm believer that an international experience is an enriching part of every young person’s education and helps prepare our future leaders for the world of work,” said Gibb.
“China is no longer an elective course”
During the reception, the British Council also launched a digital toolkit for MPs to inform universities, schools, businesses and other stakeholders of the opportunities afforded by the program.
Since its debut in 2013, Generation UK has given more than 40,000 British students the chance to access an international experience in China and has a goal of reaching more than 80,000 before 2020.
Speaking to The PIE, British Council China country director Carma Elliot explained that the plan is to reach out to students from a disadvantaged background, for whom an experience abroad has even more of an impact – as shown by evidence such as the UUKi report Gone International.
The additional funding will be used to double the number of scholarships to 300.
“The opportunity for mobility abroad needs to be extended to students who are the first from their family to go to university, from single-parent families, from ethnic minority communities,” she explained.
“We know that when they come back, they have a higher employment rate [than their non-mobile peers]. I think it’s really important that the Department for Education has doubled the funding.”
“What we have witnessed is… a lot more interest in understanding China”
The program supports language proficiency and cultural competency in UK students, both key to employability, Elliot explained – adding that she hopes to see more students taking Chinese at university or at school.
“Even if you have a small amount of Chinese, or you have had an experience under Generation UK…that could well make all the difference between you and another candidate,” she said.
“I think it’s all part of making sure that we are addressing employability issues, skills, and ensuring we are building a competitive workforce.”
But it’s not just about employability skills, but about building a generation that is more confident and knowledgeable engaging with China.
As many young Chinese become very “literate about the UK” when they study in the country, their British counterparts should strive to do the same, Elliot said.
“It’s very much a partnership model,” she explained, adding that the Chinese government and the Chinese embassy in London have been very supportive of the program.
The project has already been successful in that regard, Jazreel Goh, director education marketing at British Council China told The PIE.
“Generation UK was born out of the fact that we want to create opportunities for our young people,” said Goh, who has been involved with the project since its inception.
“What we have witnessed is a lot more people who are confident engaging with China, a lot more interest in understanding China.”
The enthusiasm of the alumni that attended the reception proved her right.
Addressing the reception attendees, Gary Izunwa, a Generation UK 2016 alumnus now working with LinkedIn, exemplified his peers’ thoughts by talking about the program’s life-changing potential and the need for today’s graduates to engage with China.
“China is no longer an elective course,” he said. “It’s core curriculum.”
Earlier in 2018, a survey revealed more than three-quarters of UK business leaders believe fluency in Mandarin Chinese will give school leavers a career advantage.