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We must support London for the benefit of Global Britain

  • 12 June 2024
  • By Anna Zvagule

***The Green Party’s 2024 manifesto is due to be released today – follow the announcements for higher education on our live blog***

  • This HEPI blog was kindly authored by Anna Zvagule, Head of Communications at London Higher, which is today launching the Study London campaign.

When people from elsewhere in the world think about the economic engine of the UK, their minds naturally turn to London. As the capital and largest city, London punches far above its weight in contributing to the nation’s prosperity. The city houses the headquarters of some of the world’s largest corporations, acts as a financial centre, and draws in tourists and top talent from across the world through its world-renowned landmarks and higher education institutions.

London’s economic dominance within the UK is staggering. The city generates almost a third of the country’s GDP despite having just under 13% of the total population. The UK remains one of the most fiscally centralised OECD countries. Its economy is roughly the size of Sweden’s. London attracts skilled workers from all over the UK as well as from other countries in the world, with over half (57%) of its workforce holding a university degree. The capital offers unparalleled job opportunities, particularly in high-value sectors like finance, technology, legal services, and the creative industries. Our higher education institutions help play a part in this ecosystem by educating over half a million students.

But London does not just stand on its own. It is the heart that helps pump prosperity throughout the nation. The city’s higher education institutions help create jobs and investment and contribute to business activity all over the UK, such as through student-founded spinouts and startups. When a business chooses London as its international base, it doesn’t just create high-value jobs in the capital – it can also mean offices, factories, distribution centres, and other facilities being established in other regions. The prosperity and opportunities created by London’s international pulling power radiate outwards.

London’s reputation speaks for itself. Students from all over the world who are looking to study abroad will have undoubtedly heard of London, whereas they might not yet be aware of some of the UK’s other great university cities. Despite the Government’s decision to not make any changes to the Graduate Route at this point, there is still a lot of uncertainty among prospective students abroad. We mustn’t forget the impact of the recent restrictions on international Master’s students from bringing dependants, and with a General Election looming, uncertainty is only increasing in the minds of prospective international students about what this may mean and whether they will be welcome in the UK.

We have already seen that this is stopping students from choosing the UK. Figures from the Home Office show that applications for student visas have fallen in the first quarter of 2024. Other data suggests that the confidence in the UK among prospective international students is at its lowest point ever. We cannot stand by and let this get even worse. We know our universities are struggling and we need to do what we can to help them.

Our answer to this at London Higher is to relaunch the Study London campaign, which aims to position London as the world’s premier study destination. This isn’t about pitting London against other regions of the UK. When it comes to international education, we are ultimately competing with cities such as Sydney, Paris, Melbourne and Tokyo, among others, so we need to ensure our voice is heard among all this uncertainty. And it is London with its strong global reputation that has the power to cut through.

Although we are using London as the hook for students to look into studying in the UK, we will see it as a real success if students choose Bristol, Northumbria, Cardiff, or anywhere else in the UK as a result. Indeed, every student who chooses to come to London to study has the potential to go on to do a Master’s, PhD, or get a job elsewhere in the UK post-graduation. So, this campaign will bring benefits that will spread across the nation.

Study London does not just fly the flag for the 50+ higher education institutions located in London, but it hopefully goes some way to signpost prospective students to all 140+ universities in this country and to boost growth and prosperity across the regions. It’s about building on the competitive advantages that London has amassed over centuries – its global reputation, its talent pool, its incredible infrastructure and connectivity – to ensure we can position ourselves as a leader among other global study destinations.

The solution now is not to undermine London’s strengths but to double down on them while simultaneously investing in cities across the rest of the UK. London’s victory here will be a victory for the entire UK higher education sector.

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