Hands across the oceans

July 29, 2010

If only the lives of international officers were half as glamorous as Caroline Knowles suggests ("The UK plc roadshow", 8 July). Unfortunately, she presents a limited and one-sided account of the relationship between British universities and overseas students.

The UK's international agenda is not concerned exclusively with the recruitment of students from overseas, but with the construction of sustainable partnerships. This is what the British Council is committed to in its own strategy and what we see reflected throughout Britain's academy.

International higher education is vitally important to the UK and to countries across the world. Students are one part of a much bigger picture, which includes research, collaborative delivery and capacity building. The British Council's work has at its heart a partnership agenda to which all of these elements are vitally important.

In today's world, student recruitment cannot be a "stand alone", as your article implies. Rather, it is about building partnerships with the countries from which students originate. The UK universities that we work with are committed to this much wider agenda. Our Internationalising Higher Education strategy is based on this inclusive and mutually supportive approach, and we are spending nearly £8 million a year to support it.

The British Council builds relationships with students and universities across the world. Here in Hong Kong, our offices are open seven days a week, with staff working shifts to meet the needs of students and institutions alike. In the past year we have met with 25 vice-chancellors and more than 65 international officers, all committed to building long-term partnerships.

The UK's academy is highly regarded overseas because of its quality and because it is seen as a good partner interested in mutuality and knowledge sharing. The British Council is building on that. In the past year we have worked with more than 750 universities globally (including most UK institutions) to develop international networks and partnerships. We support student mobility, but it is just one component of a much wider agenda - one rooted in a belief that higher education builds long-term ties between countries and contributes to a safer, more prosperous world.

Peter Upton, Director of the British Council Hong Kong, Manager of the Internationalising Higher Education strategy.

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