The business secretary has said he wants to dramatically increase the number of British people studying or taking internships in China from just 5,400 today to 80,000 by 2020.
Vince Cable has appealed to the UK’s leading companies urging them to support a British Council target to create a more equal flow of students between the two countries.
Making the announcement today at Sun Yat Sen University in Guangzhou, Mr Cable pointed out that mainland China sends more than 100,000 students to the UK every year, around 20 times as many making the journey in the other direction.
France sends 8,000 students to China a year, substantially more than the UK, he said.
“We must raise our game,” he writes in a letter to the chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. “New independent research shows that a lack of language skills in the UK is costing our economy about £48 billion. The shortage of Mandarin speakers is part of the problem. I don’t want young British people to get left behind.”
In a statement on the topic, Mr Cable adds: “Participants in this programme will not only boost their own career prospects, but become ambassadors for UK-China relations on their return home.”
He also announced a new deal between Sun Yat Sen University in Guangdong province and the universities of Glasgow and Warwick to boost student exchange.
In June 2013 the British Council launched its “Generation UK” project, which will offer more academic scholarships and fund two-month internships in China to address the fears of business leaders that young Britons were not gaining “global skills”.
At the time, the council said that it was aiming to get at least 15,000 British people to study or gain work experience in China by 2016.