UK is shutting itself off

January 9, 2014

Over the past year, we have repeatedly said that the UK government’s “brightest and the best” message has been badly received in India and has affected student recruitment. So it was gratifying to see that Vicky Elliott, head of international education at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has acknowledged that this rhetoric is unhelpful and untrue (“UK door ‘open to all’, not just brightest and best”, 12 December).

Indian and Chinese students are now being courted by a multitude of countries. Members of the old guard – the UK, Australia and the US – are being challenged by Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Malaysia, the Republic of Ireland and Singapore, which are all experiencing double-digit growth in the number of international students choosing to study there.

This is partly because many countries are providing innovative models to their overseas students, including work experience and, in some cases, guaranteed jobs.

The UK government has responded too slowly to this competition, and there is no agreement on whether encouraging students from abroad is part of a soft diplomacy strategy, is an acknowledgement that a UK education is a world-leading product that should be maximised or is simply a solution to filling funding gaps at home.

The US government is quite clear on its approach. It does not see overseas students as revenue generators but rather as a way for the country to connect with and engage the next generation of corporate leaders. Examples of this approach include the “100,000 Strong” initiative of the US State Department to dramatically increase the number of American students studying in China.

Countries are increasingly recognising how important it is not just to play host to overseas students but also to send their young citizens to live and study in the up-and-coming economic powerhouses.

While the UK will continue to be a leading destination in terms of numbers for students from China and India, its overall market share is falling. The real value of a UK education as perceived by Indian and Chinese students needs to be examined more closely.

Lakshmi Iyer
Head of education division, Sannam S4
New Delhi, India

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