This blog was kindly contributed by Dr Diana Beech, Chief Executive Officer, London Higher.
In her closing speech at last week’s Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister Liz Truss made it clear that her Government’s priority is all about growth. In the speech, Truss stressed the need for the UK to be ‘internationally competitive’ and justified cutting taxes as means of ‘attracting the best talent’ and ‘putting up a sign that Britain is open for business’.
What the new Prime Minister appears to have overlooked, however, with her failure to give even the slightest nod in her speech to the importance of universities or Research and Development (R&D) to her new growth agenda, are the existing competitive strengths of our country’s higher education sector and the significant growth potential to be had in prioritising international education exports. This is an industry which the Prime Minister herself, in her former role as Secretary of State for International Trade, personally re-committed to growing to £35 billion by 2030 in the 2021 update to the UK’s International Education Strategy.
While our best hope is that this was purely an oversight – or an attempt to avoid too much detail in her maiden address to Conference – the Home Secretary’s disparaging comments about international students just a few days earlier are raising fears that the Truss Government may well be turning its back on one of the most promising export industries that our country currently has. This has also not been helped by the fact that delivering on the International Education Strategy now comes last in the 14-point list of ministerial prioritiesallocated to Andrea Jenkyns, the newly appointed Minister for Skills.
At London Higher – the UK’s largest regional representative body for higher education – we want to make sure that the Government does not renege on its existing international education ambitions and have, today, published a new International Education Strategy for London, which not only reaffirms the importance of increasing the UK’s international education exports, but also puts the capital front and centre of the country’s drive for growth.
As far as global appeal goes, London’s attractiveness to international students and researchers is as yet unrivalled, and the UK capital provides an open doorway for global talent wanting to experience British higher education. Bolstering London’s educational ‘pulling power’ is not about asserting London’s dominance over other UK university towns and cities, but rather ensuring our capital remains internationally competitive against other global study destinations, so that we can build a pipeline of talent to go on to power business and innovation right across the country for generations to come.
It is hoped our Strategy will spark a much-needed conversation about how the UK regions can better play into the national drive to meet international education ambitions sustainably. For that, we need a dedicated International Education Champion for London to deliver on this Strategy alongside the excellent work of the national Champion, Sir Steve Smith, to support delegations and bring out important regional nuances. We also need a commitment from local London stakeholders to come together to address London’s biggest challenges, such as affordability, safety and pollution. Most importantly, we need an ambitious commitment from Government for a new single pathway study visa to incentivise international students coming to the UK for undergraduate study to stay on and progress to postgraduate research across the country to guarantee our future R&D success.
Being home to a rich tapestry of higher education providers from large, research-intensive universities to small, specialist conservatoires, the Greater London region perfectly exemplifies why we need more than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy for growth in this area – hence why our Strategy outlines provider-specific pathways to help institutions devise different approaches to embracing the international growth agenda. For modern, technical universities this could include developing more industry-facing PhD programmes, while for the capital’s specialist arts institutions, the key could be in devising more sustainable solutions to audition and assessment.
Irrespective of their size and subject-area, all London universities and higher education colleges share a collective responsibility to display care and compassion for international students. That’s why our Strategy calls, among others, for the provision of up-to-date information about the true costs of living in the capital; a commitment to using global alumni networks for student guidance and support; serious consideration of a ‘London offer’ to attract students from developing countries; and the creation of a London-wide kitemark for pathway providers operating in the capital to provide much-needed reassurance to overseas students that they are using reputable services with the best interests of the students and city at heart.
Although new opportunities and challenges will inevitably emerge as time progresses, our International Education Strategy for London is just the start of a much-needed debate and action about how the city’s higher education and research powerhouse can remain at the heart of the national plan for growth in the international education arena and ensure our capital city stays ahead of its global competitors as ‘the place to be for international HE’.
HEPI is co-hosting a research conference in central London on Thursday, 3 November 2022. For further details, HEPI is co-hosting a research conference in central London on Thursday, 3 November 2022. For further details, including an agenda and details on how to book a place, see https://bookwhen.com/hepi. Organisations that already support HEPI are entitled to free places.
Explore posts related to this topic:
- Meti Basiri, ‘How international students can help bridge the UK’s skills gap’, HEPI blog, 25 July 2022.
- Helen Atkinson, Gemma Green and Jim Campbell, ‘Humanising the international student experience: the post-study reality of gaining UK employment’, HEPI blog, 20 June 2022.
- Anne Marie Graham, ‘Now, more than ever, we need to expand our knowledge of international student outcomes’, HEPI blog, 15 March 2022.
- Universities UK International (UUKi) and HEPI, with research from London Economics, The costs and benefits of international higher education students to the UK economy, 9 September 2021.
- Report for HEPI and Kaplan International Pathways by London Economics, The costs and benefits of international students by parliamentary constituency, 11 January 2018.