Concern that UK's overseas ventures oversold

October 23, 2008

Concerns that UK universities' international activities are "just about making money" risk the long-term reputation and stability of the sector, a review ordered by Universities Secretary John Denham will say.

Sir Drummond Bone was commissioned by Mr Denham earlier this year to assess the challenges posed by internationalisation as part of a series of reviews into the long-term future of the higher education sector.

Professor Bone, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, was due to cover some of the themes of his report at Times Higher Education's Globalisation of Universities conference this week.

Speaking ahead of the event, Professor Bone told Times Higher Education that it was common to hear the criticism that, for the UK, the recruitment of overseas students and the delivery of courses overseas was "just about making money".

Asked whether he believed there was any truth in this, Professor Bone said: "There's no smoke without fire, let me put it that way.

"I don't think it is true of the majority of institutions, but I am sure it has happened that there's been a bit of overselling.

"What is certainly true is that that's the perception out there, and it's a perception that we've got to change, so that when the British Council or whoever is out there selling the UK brand, the brand they've got to sell is that we're good partners, good collaborators, and that we're in it for the long-term good of global education, not for the short-term bottom line of the UK."

Professor Bone said that making the shift from a "selling model" to a partnership model of higher education would be an expensive process, but it would offer greater financial stability.

"Working in a partnership model reduces the ups and downs of a variable market, and God knows that's what we're in at the moment," he said. It would also offer greater international mobility for UK students.

Professor Bone suggested that a special funding stream from the funding council could support "capacity building" overseas, but conceded that "the chances of getting new money into the system at the moment are zero, I would think".

"We would have to think quite carefully about how that was done; you might want funding to track students or staff mobility, for example, rather than go to institutions - there are various ways of skinning that cat, but it is a difficult cat to skin," Professor Bone added.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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