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UK launches major education exports strategy

The UK government says it wants to see 15-20% growth in overseas enrolments at its universities, as part of a major new industrial strategy to ensure international education becomes “one of Britain’s great growth industries of the 21st century”. However, some say the goal clashes with restrictive immigration policies introduced since 2010.

"MOOCs are probably more of threat to education agents than they are to conventional education"

Released by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) today, the International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity strategy maps out key objectives for the sector that would see the government and sector (public and private) collaborate to increase recruitment from target markets; develop new forms of education technology; and encourage more UK students to go abroad.

BIS hopes that universities will see a 15-20% rise in international students in the next five years

With exports totalling £17.5 billon in 2011 – and higher education alone bringing in £10 billion – BIS says it wants to see a 15-20% rise in international students at universities by 2018; equivalent to as many as 90,000 extra students in five years.

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts said: “There is a hunger for a massive expansion of education, especially higher education, around the world and Britain is ideally placed to seize that opportunity and that’s what this document is all about.”

Industry leaders welcomed the cross-party strategy as the first sign of sustained government support for the sector. “This the first time for roughy 15 years that the UK government has said that the education sector has the potential for long-term export growth and it’s just very useful to have that in the form of the document being published and subscribed to by the government, ” Tony Millns, CEO of English UK, told The PIE News.

“Coming from the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives gives us a two out of three chance of having a continuity into our next government,” he added. “That’s enormously positive.”

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts announced the strategy in London

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts announced the strategy in London

The British Council, English UK, Universities UK and the Quality Assurance Agency are among the bodies coordinating with the government to implement the strategy.

In order to bring all levels of the sector together in unified marketing efforts in countries including the USA, South Korea and Russia, education will become part of the government’s “GREAT Britain” campaign, launched last year to market UK industry overseas.

The Education UK recruitment website, which is run by the British Council and attracted 2.2 million unique visitors last year, will also expand to promote UK boarding schools, English language schools, colleges, universities and the transnational education market

Establishing two-way partnerships with emerging markets including China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia is also pivotal to the government’s recruitment goals.

Another aim is to increase the number of UK students studying overseas through work incentives and language provision. Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is also behind the strategy, said: “We’ve got as much to learn about how to import as well as export educational services.”

“Coming from the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives gives us a two out of three chance of having a continuity into our next government”

While 75% of British education exports come from international students in the UK, expanding UK transnational education will be key to the plan. This will be supported by reinforcing quality assurance frameworks for language providers, schools, colleges and universities.The government will also continue to push the development of technology-supported delivery, including the UK’s MOOC platform Futurelearn, which is increasingly seen as a tool to entice students to study onshore.

“MOOCs are probably more of threat to [education] agents than they are to conventional education,” said Willetts. “They won’t be a complete alternative to education but they will be a taster.”

However, some have questioned the government’s plan to increase onshore enrolment, given the tough line it has taken on student immigration since coming to power. Many fear tougher Tier 4 visa rules will lead to declining HE enrolments (as has happened in the FE and language sectors), although this is yet to materialise.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK said: “The challenge will be to make sure that the UK’s student visa rules are properly understood internationally and that international students do not become caught in efforts to bear down on immigration.

“Visa procedures should be implemented in a way that is consistent with the strategy’s commitment to growing international student numbers. Students and talented academics will go elsewhere if they do not feel welcome.”

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One Response to UK launches major education exports strategy

  1. Curious to know, how does this fit with Vince cable’s comments regarding the “torrid and emotional debate”, caused by a UN statistical anomaly, with focus upon net overseas migration NOM and calls for capping on numbers?

    Quite rightly, unlike Australia, Cable makes a clear distinction between those included in NOM who are temporaries e.g. students, versus permanents e.g. new permanent immigrants, returning British etc.

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