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Graham Stuart, Department for International Trade

Graham Stuart MP, former chair of the Education Select Committee and the current Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Exports) at the Department for International Trade, discusses the UK’s updated International Education Strategy and how the government is reaffirming commitments to international education during the pandemic.


Graham Stuart

"It's great to be able to champion the UK education offer"

The PIE: Can you tell us a bit about the update?

Graham Stuart: I worked with others to bring this 2019 strategy to fruition, which came from a 2013 strategy. We wanted to make sure we had regular updates. We made sure that we set up high-level targets but we actually took practical measures in the meantime to deliver it. So we’re reaffirming our commitment to raise higher education student numbers to 600,000 by 2030, and total education exports to £35 billion by that date as well.

“We’re reaffirming our commitment to raise higher education student numbers to 600,000 by 2030, and total education exports to £35 billion by that date as well”

It’s great to be able to champion the UK education offer and reaffirm government commitment to the sector’s growth. I spent seven years on the Education Select Committee so I’m naturally passionate about the quality and the importance of the UK education sector, both at home and internationally.

We’re very proud of our success across the piece in education. But specifically, if you look at higher education, we have more foreign students come to the UK than any other country in the world, excepting only the US, which is remarkable.

The PIE: Despite Covid-19, the main targets of the strategy are still similar to the 2019 version. Has the path for achieving them changed?

GS: We are going to be obviously moving into a period of recovery. For areas like transnational education, in which the UK is the leader, clearly the technology will accelerate transnational educational opportunities.

“Technology will accelerate transnational educational opportunities”

That means that the pathways change, but the fundamentals haven’t shifted. What we want to do is make sure that even in the midst of the pandemic – and the sector’s been hard it and having to deal with that – we can look ahead, plan ahead and jointly we commit ourselves to delivering that kind of growth, which is so important to the whole country because of course education exporters are all over the country from Aberystwyth to Inverness.

You’ve got people with local jobs supported by the education sector. So it’s very important that it recovers quickly, not only economically, but also because education plays such a positive role in the world as well and will help other people grow back better.

The PIE: Can you talk a bit about the international teaching qualification focus?

GS: We will be working on that to ensure that we can have this new qualification and that can then be taken up by trainee teachers around the world. I think there’s a real opportunity there. Watch this space as we develop it and seek to turn it into a reality.

The PIE: Are you targeting any particular markets with the qualification?

GS: We are consulting and we’ll be looking at exactly those sorts of questions. But from China to India to all sorts of places, there are opportunities. The most popular curriculum around the world comes from the UK and therefore the IQTS could complement that perfectly.

The PIE: For the updated strategy, there were five countries highlighted as priority countries. How were they chosen and what does that mean?

GS: Sir Steve Smith has been appointed the international education champion and he’s met with representatives of every part of our education offer from early years to tech to colleges. He is also engaged across the whole country.

The sector effectively led on this, but we’ve identified for him India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria as having the greatest potential and therefore that’s where he’s focusing a lot of his time.

He will be working with my team in those countries as we seek to eliminate barriers to UK providers being able to access those markets. We’ve seen great success in India over recent years but we think that the appetite and the opportunity in the education space is only going to grow in coming years.

The PIE: What are the barriers to these markets at the moment?

GS: They vary but you get issues like mutual recognition of qualifications. There’s always things to be done that just reduce frictions and will enhance and increase the attractiveness of UK courses and qualifications in the in the country.

The PIE: Turning to the Turing Scheme, how’s that going to fit into the International Education Strategy?

GS: The Turing Scheme is a fantastic opportunity. Clearly, Erasmus was restricted to Europe. Now we have the whole world on offer. It will be able to provide experiences for 35,000 students a year to be able to go some of the countries we just mentioned, the US, Indonesia, as well as Europe.

“Erasmus was restricted to Europe. Now we have the whole world on offer”

It makes the whole world an oyster for our students and with a real focus on ensuring that less privileged people from less privileged backgrounds are better able to get those experiences. We know that the benefit is particularly great for those who come from less privileged backgrounds.

It offers better value for money for the UK taxpayer, a superior reach and a better system all around, which is also fairer and improves access.

The PIE: Do you think it will be harder to find partners abroad willing to take students because of the lack of reciprocity in the Turing Scheme?

GS: I don’t think so and we’re confident that it’ll be successful. One of the strengths of the UK education sector is it’s probably more collaborative and more internationally engaged than any other in the world.

The attractiveness of our system to others is something which I’ve experienced again and again in three years as a trade minister. You can see from Morocco to the United States, from Canada to China, there’s enormous interest in engaging with the UK. Whenever I go abroad, I’m pushed to encourage more interactions and partnerships between UK education system and whichever country I’m in. So I have no doubt that we will be a popular partner.

The PIE: Going back to the international student target for 2030, how much of the focus is on attracting students from the EU?

GS: Well, it’s really important that we do that and obviously the changes that have been made in the relationship there mean that a big effort needs to go on to reassure EU students that the UK is keen to host them and will provide them with an excellent experience.

Clearly with the change, the cost to EU students will rise and therefore you could expect a reduction in EU students. But I haven’t seen any assessment of that.

The PIE: More generally, do you think the number of international students will decrease in the short term because of Covid-19?

GS: The short term impact has obviously been devastating and it will take time to recover. But we think the demand will be resilient. That’s another reason why we’ve got to do everything we can to promote the offer and encourage as many people as possible to come here.

That’s why the Study UK campaign and the Education is Great campaign are so important in taking missions abroad, promoting the sector and reaching into markets which we haven’t targeted before. We tried to expand the reach of our marketing in order to broaden that out and make sure that we do keep the pipeline of students coming in, which we will need to do if we’re going to meet our 600,000 target by 2030.

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