EXPORTING EDUCATION-GOVERNMENT SEEKING JOINED UP APPROACH BUT HIGHER EDUCATION BATTLES VISA POLICY

Conference hears from UKTI and Higher Education Institutions

Comment

Emily Ashwell, the corporate financier who heads the education unit at UKTI(BIS) was a panellist this week at an Education Export conference run by Education Investor. The panel was discussing vocational education. HMG sees Saudi Arabia as a major education export opportunity and is selling UK expertise in vocational education and training, which is in demand in Saudi. Further Education colleges are being encouraged to step up to the plate. Other countries seen as priorities are Colombia, Mexico and Kazakhstan, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

The ten strong education unit sees the future in consortium bidding. The proposition is that governments abroad are seeking to transform their education systems. Opportunities will therefore be big in scale, complex and cross cutting.  To respond to this we need to offer a strategic, joined up, holistic approach, not a piecemeal and fragmented one .  This is about partnership and collaboration. So, the education unit can help gather educators, suppliers, construction companies, lawyers etc to offer integrated solutions. The implication here is that they will focus on the big ticket contracts. The smaller operators may have grounds for concern, although Ashwell denied this in a recent interview with Education Investor. In initial publicity launching the new export initiative earlier this year Pearson Education was referenced several times-and they are certainly big- and, when I last looked, not so obviously British.  But, that aside, UKTI deserve a chance and Ashwell certainly appears to be determined to help change the landscape and to ensure that we catch up with the more  co-ordinated  approaches  of  our major competitors including the US, Canada, and  Australia.

Meanwhile, Higher Education Institutions told the audience that the Home Offices’ visa policy is driving a coach and horses through our higher education exports. Foreign students are finding it too difficult and costly to apply to UK institutions and we are rapidly losing market share.  India has been particularly badly hit by this. Its now beginning to affect Chinese students. The Chief Executive of Sannam S4 ,Adrian Mutton , a recruiter specialising in India and China, said that the  old guard of the UK, Australia and the US are now  being challenged by Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Malaysia, Ireland and Singapore, which are all experiencing double-digit growth in the number of students choosing to study there. Interestingly too  in Europe universities are teaching many more courses in English which is also seen as a possible  longer term  threat to UK HEIs.

HEIs want students not to be included in the net immigration figures. This seems unlikely before the next election.  The Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia even called for the Home Secretary to step down.  The view is that BIS and DFE are supportive of HEIs but the Home Office isn’t.

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