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Harnessing the opportunities in global higher education

  • 28 June 2018
  • By Patrick Whitfield

This guest blog has been kindly written for us by Patrick Whitfield, Director UK & Europe of QS Enrolment Solutions.

June has been a month of good news for proponents of the internationalisation of higher education. Heralding progress on the UK’s offer to international students, Immigration Minister Rt Hon Caroline Noakes MP announced that the Government has made it easier for applicants from 11 countries to benefit from a ‘streamlined’ visa application process. Meanwhile, Home Secretary Rt Hon Savid Javid MP stated that he is going to take a ‘fresh look’ at the inclusion of international students in the drive to reduce net migration into the UK, conceding that it did not give a welcoming impression.

For the success of our higher education sector, now is the time for Government to work together with universities and other stakeholders to do more to harness the opportunities presented by global higher education and promote higher education exports.

Internationalisation is not a straight forward trajectory; the complex and shifting global environment presents both opportunities and challenges. As HEPI’s own Dr Diana Beech has previously written, universities are at the mercy of various political, legal, and economic factors. The impact of Brexit demonstrates all three of these factors. QS Enrolment Solutions’ International Student Survey this year found that there is still a significant amount of uncertainty amongst international and EU students regarding the impact of the EU referendum, with an increased number of prospective students from the EU saying they are now less interested in studying in the UK.

To ensure the UK continues to be a leading destination for higher education, in an increasingly competitive global market, it is crucial that institutions listen to these views carefully and address the remaining uncertainty regarding the impact of the EU referendum. A lack of clarity amongst some students from the EU, about the level of fees they would be charged in the UK, along with the pessimism about Brexit amongst some younger prospective students are notable. That is why we are calling for the UK Government, universities and other organisations within the sector to do more to provide clarity for prospective international students and lead the way in promoting this vitally important sector overseas.

In his foreword for the International Student Survey, Shadow Brexit Minister, Paul Blomfield MP said ‘international students are central to the sustainability of higher education and make a major contribution to the economy’. With a recent HEPI/Kaplan International report showing the net economic impact of international students is, on average, £68,000 for each EU student and £95,000 for each non-EU student, maintaining the UK’s reputation as a top destination for higher education is vital. Sustaining momentum and expanding welcoming campaign efforts such as #WeAreInternational could help UK higher education continue to thrive. This year’s International Student Survey shows that these campaigns are continuing to have a positive effect in ensuring that international students perceive the UK to be welcoming. More can be done by universities, and by all of us with an interest in UK higher education, to give international students a sense that they are welcome here.

However, if studying at a UK university – as opposed to studying in the UK – is the priority for the international student, the internationalisation of UK higher education provides an opportunity through transnational education (TNE). The International Student Survey found that interest in TNE is considerably higher amongst prospective students from within the EU in comparison to other international students. A number of respondents expressed an interest in a UK branch campus in an EU country as it would likely involve fewer complications with visas and a more streamlined application process.

British universities are great brands. While the vast majority of TNE takes place in Asia and the Middle East, there is huge potential to evaluate the market conditions for TNE within the EU. At a time when immigration policy for EU students post-Brexit is uncertain, branch campuses present an opportunity for Government and the sector to review its higher education export offer.

With the current uncertainty in the sector as the UK prepares to exit the EU, any future proposals which help to promote UK universities as innovative and an attractive place to study should be more widely publicised. Higher education plays an important role in the UK economy, society and in nurturing generations to come. It is crucial that this continues and that international students remain drawn to the UK for world-class learning and research opportunities. Embracing the opportunities provided by the internationalisation of UK higher education will ensure that UK higher education continues to thrive.

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