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UK: Willetts laments lack of support to finance study abroad

The former Universities Minister, David Willetts, used his platform at the British Council’s Going Global conference this week to lament the lack of Treasury support to extend student loan funding for English students to cover periods of study abroad.

"As globalisation reaches HE, that is the next stage in the agenda"

Willetts said his “regret” was not being able to follow countries such as Norway and usher in more progressive funding for study abroad which would undoubtedly have helped increase outbound numbers.

“I would have loved to have been able to say [to countries with scholarship schemes, such as Brazil], in return, I will extend student loans to English students to come and study in your country,” he divulged.

“My view is, as globalisation reaches HE, that is the next stage in the agenda. There are enlightened countries like Norway that are already approaching things like that.”

Willetts also used the platform to defend his controversial shake-up of student financing in England and Wales, rolling out a loan scheme that requires students to pay back their loan when they earn enough.

“Some of the controversy was based on fears and incomprehension that fees would be charged upfront,” he said, underlining that there are zero upfront fees unlike in many other countries.

“I think the reforms introduced have been vindicated by the evidence,” he said, citing an increase in applications and in applications from students of low-income backgrounds.

Discussing more broadly how to sustain global HE with other panellists, Willetts also highlighted the double-matched research funding model as a success of his, enabling over a billion pounds of research funding to filter into HE by pledging to contribute to research projects if businesses double-matched the government contribution.

The need for the UK to internationalise its HE system was also eloquently argued by Josh Barnett, Student Union President at Cardiff Metropolitan University in a closing plenary that enabled young panellists to share their view on the evolution of HE.

Barnett was able to meet international students studying at partner sites in Egypt and Cyprus which he said was an inspiration to him.

“Teach us to be global citizens”

“Teach us to be global citizens,” he implored the crowd, “so we can see no boundaries for ourselves or for businesses we may work in”.

Barnett also challenged the audience of policy-makers and agenda-setters on the use of technology in teaching. “The generation we live in changes so quickly and [my peers] consider a lot of tedious lectures as a reality,” he said.

“Universities need to be open-minded about how students learn. The world we have grown up in can adapt in a day.”

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