Boris Johnson says London can lead the way on world stage

Mayor confident in capital’s academic brand values

June 6, 2013
Take it by the brand: Boris Johnson calls on sector to be bolder still

Source: Natalia Mikhaylova /

UK universities must do more to exploit their “natural advantages” on the global stage and the country must renew its efforts to “explode any myths there might be about visas”, Boris Johnson has said.

In a rare return to a brief he held as a shadow minister from 2005 to 2007, the mayor of London told the Global University Summit 2013 that the capital had the “critical mass” to remain pre-eminent as a world centre for higher education.

“I want to take my text from the world of nuclear physics, expert as I am in that subject, and ask you to envisage London as a cyclotron of human beings,” he said. “That is what we have in London: the critical mass of talent, because we have more universities than almost any other city on Earth…more foreign students than I think any other city on Earth, and certainly more Chinese students, I am delighted to say, than any other city in the world - outside China, of course.”

He said that in his tenure as mayor he had seen London grow as an international “brand”, adding: “The foreign student population…is a huge part of London’s brand. And since the Olympics we have seen serious economic benefits from the brand - big investments coming into our city…and of course, investments by other universities around the world here in London, in a symmetrical way to London university partnerships [overseas]”.

The academy was also crucial in terms of producing the future workforce and entrepreneurial drive, Mr Johnson argued. But he said that there were still “some things we need to get right”, including helping London’s schoolchildren to go to “top” universities and being “clear that this city is open to foreign talent”. He also called for universities to be “even bolder in selling their brands overseas”.

“We need to get on with all these things, because other countries are obviously running to catch up,” he said. “But I am confident. We have lots of natural advantages. We have the right time zone - no way of changing that; we have more museums than Paris; we have twice as many bookshops as New York.”

However, the mayor wryly sounded a word of caution.

“We no longer have a monopoly on one of our most important assets, because they now speak it in Australia, Canada and, after a fashion, in America, and I now see - shock horreur - I now see in my copy of Libération that the French themselves are going to be teaching their university courses en anglais, mes amis…We need to get going before the French have mastered our language.”

Listen to our podcast from the Global University Summit 2013.

Declaration of intent: delegates aim to influence G8 agenda

At the Global University Summit 2013, delegates helped to produce a higher education “declaration” designed to influence the G8 Summit, which will take place this month in Northern Ireland.

The resulting document was handed to Dominic Martin, director of the G8 Presidency Unit, and has also been sent to David Willetts, the UK universities and science minister. It includes the following recommendations. G8 members should:

  • Recognise that the principles of international free trade also apply to ideas and knowledge, and facilitate the movement of academics, researchers and university students between states
  • Recognise the increasing demand for higher-level skills in the world’s rising economies and work with the G20 to expand freedom of movement across the world’s innovation centres
  • Invest more in universities to secure economic recovery and reap long-term rewards
  • Set goals that reflect patience and a commitment to long-term investments to ensure that universities can work with business to create jobs and wealth
  • Establish a global commission to identify and promote best practice in university-business relations across member nations and beyond
  • Outline what G8 leaders consider to be “the grand challenges” that universities can help to address
  • Take the lead in establishing the highest standards and market guidance on the value of international qualifications
  • Continue to work with transnational institutions to simplify the international patent infrastructure
  • Commit to evaluating the impact of transnational education

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