Meeting the global demand for UK higher education

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Global business networks and innovative technology can help increase the number of international higher education students in the UK

Education is one of the UK’s most successful unsung exports. Its estimated contribution to the British economy is £19.9 billion. More than two-thirds of that value comes from higher education, often through the sector’s support for international students.

Speaking at a reception to launch the government’s International Education Strategy, secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox described the UK’s educational exports as an “international success story – a jewel in our economic crown” that should be celebrated. The goal of the International Education Strategy is to increase the number of international higher education students in the UK to 600,000 by 2030.

As education secretary Damian Hinds went on to highlight: “There is no practical limit to what we can learn from each other and so others look to learn from us too.” Not only do international students make a vital contribution to the UK economy, they also bring greater cultural diversity to university and college campuses. “They enrich the experience for all students who study there, as well as the wider communities. They stimulate demand for courses and add to the UK’s impressive research capacity,” he said.  

The government’s 2018 immigration white paper recommends that the rules around visas are relaxed post-Brexit, but there are still challenges ahead for UK institutions to keep attracting global student talent in a competitive market. In order to stay ahead, it will be crucial for universities and students to build networks and establish new partnerships. Suzy Verma, head of public sector and higher education at HSBC, says that it can offer institutions much-needed support in this area.

“Primarily, we have education specialists assigned to many regions across the UK, as well as working with designated teams across a number of our key territories where UK education providers gain significant interest,” she explains. “Each of our hubs offers a specialism into the local area and, coupled with our strong international network, we have been able to make key contacts with important government figures who can provide the opportunity, support and backing to new providers looking to enter into the market.”

Fox has insisted that this type of support will be crucial to sustaining existing sources of international students and opening the doors to new ones. “Some education providers may feel they are not suited to take advantage of exporting opportunities, or lack the confidence or knowledge to pursue them,” he said. “They may not have the information they need about how to tackle policy or regulatory barriers to access overseas markets, how to seek and get finance, or even where to go to get help.”

As well as local expertise, HSBC can help institutions to explore new innovations in educational technology. “Supporting our global hubs, we have global innovation labs, hosting resident experts and partnerships with leading tech companies and top-tier academic solutions,” adds Verma.

HSBC’s International Education Payment Solution (IEPS), meanwhile, can provide international students and their families with a simple, secure means of paying tuition fees directly to an overseas education provider. It is hoped this service will be expanded to 1.1 million students across HSBC’s global payments network – equivalent to 38 per cent of all international students in the world. Accounts can be opened within two days, with debit and credit cards delivered to the student’s home before they travel. From 2019, they will be able to receive subsistence payments without fees and in real time.

Another bold goal of the government’s International Education Strategy is to increase the value of the UK’s education exports to £35 billion per year. To do this, it is crucial that universities continue to invest in their domestic and overseas campuses to ensure that they appeal to international students.  

This is a further area where HSBC can add support, says Verma: “For UK universities to compete on the international stage, it’s imperative that they offer world-class facilities. Investing in state-of-the art learning – as well as providing an environment where students can flourish physically, emotionally and mentally – is key.” HSBC does this in several ways, such as tailored financial solutions, connecting clients to opportunities and introducing them to international contacts.

There are challenging times for UK higher education providers. But as we move into a new era, universities that are at the forefront of shifts in economic and technological power will continue to shine. As Hinds concluded in his strategy speech, “it has never been more important for us to be globally minded, outward looking and ambitious. The competition has never been fiercer. But the opportunities have never been greater. They are there to be taken.”

Brought to you in conjunction with HSBC. Find out more about HSBC’s education team.