A much delayed UK education export strategy has just been published ‘International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity; July 2013′
Will it make make any difference? Lets hope so. But experience suggests that not much will change. Certainly there is a new education unit, at UKTI whose output since the beginning of the year is hard to judge, but its small and there appears to be little new ring fenced funding to aid education exports. This group will be looking at big ticket cross cutting projects , with big UK based operators. The British Council remains a significant agent responsible for promoting UK education and culture abroad, which will upset some suppliers who are never quite sure when the BC is working in support of their efforts abroad or is intent on competing against them ,through its commercial arm. The BC looks to be searching for new income streams, and the danger here is that smaller private operators may be crowded out of the market.
The International Education Council (to be co-chaired by Minister David Willetts) looks to be an effort to assuage companies who believe that they have neither been listened to nor helped in the past but at least suggests a new willingness to engage with stakeholders and it would be churlish not to acknowledge this . It might help but looks to some observers to be window dressing. And, of course, we have yet another champion, this time for education exports . Will the champion be more effective than other champions /or czars appointed , it has to said, with very mixed results in other sectors? Indeed, are we witnessing a triumph of style over substance?
What matters most is what exporters experience on the ground. Is the market transparent and fair? This paper does not address competition issues . Are the costs of market entry and exit acceptable ? Are companies getting access to useful, timely, commercial information on new opportunities , and are they getting access to useful contacts and market intelligence ?Do trade missions include education exporters ? Many companies, of course, have managed to secure business in the past without any help at all from government and doubtless this will continue. But if you talk to education exporters it is clear that they think that we really do have to raise our game abroad, and at many levels, to compete more effectively with Asian new comers, with Canada, the United States and Australia who all provide good support for their own exporters. The launch of this strategy at least provides an acknowledgement that we haven’t been getting it right in the past which is a start. Whether it changes much on the ground, at the sharp end, where competition is hotting up, remains to be seen.