Higher education bolsters UK soft power

Educating the global elite, including many central bankers, gives Britain a powerful presence, report finds

February 13, 2014

Source: Getty

Favourably disposed? The Bank of Japan’s Haruhiko Kuroda studied at Oxford

Almost one in five of the world’s central bankers has been educated at a UK university, according to a report that stresses the “soft power” that Britain gains from educating the world’s elite.

It calls on the government to commission research on how British education affects the UK’s influence globally. It would like to see the results used to inform immigration policy – which many in higher education have claimed is deterring international students from attending UK universities.

Education and British Soft Power – The Unexplored Connection was commissioned by ExEdUK, a group of businesses and organisations that export education. It looked at non-British Nobel prizewinners, central bankers and people with entries in Who’s Who to see how many had been educated in the UK.

The most surprising finding was that 32 of the world’s 177 central bankers had gone to UK universities, said Graham Able, chairman of ExEdUK.

These include Haruhiko Kuroda, the governor of the Bank of Japan, who studied for an MPhil in economics at the University of Oxford, and Stanley Fischer, who until June 2013 was governor of the Bank of Israel and who received a BSc and MSc in economics from the London School of Economics.

“I think an element of UK education can make you preferably disposed towards the UK,” Mr Able said.

The head of a corporation in China, for example, would be more inclined to think favourably of and to strike a deal with a British firm if he had studied in the UK, he added.

Likewise with foreign politicians, Mr Able continued: “There’s a better chance that someone who understands the UK [having been educated there]…will appreciate us better.”

The report found 407 non-Britons listed in Who’s Who who had been educated in the UK, the vast majority as undergraduates.

Forty-two per cent of these people were listed for their role in scholarly work, research or medicine, while 22 per cent were involved in government, politics or international relations. Most hailed from countries with close ties to the UK: 25 per cent were from Australia; 19 per cent from the US, 9 per cent from Canada and 6 per cent from New Zealand. Mr Able said that it would be good if in 30 to 40 years this list included people from countries that are now developing, although he noted that leaders in African Commonwealth countries did already feature.

Thirteen per cent of non-British Nobel prizewinners had been educated in the UK or had held a position at a British university, the ExEdUK research revealed.

When it came to analysing soft power, the report had only “scratched the surface”, Mr Able stressed. It was intended, he said, to spur the government to undertake much more detailed research in the area in order to inform its policy on international students – rather than having immigration policy driven by the “gut reaction” of some in the media.

Last month it emerged that the number of non-European Union students studying at UK universities in 2012-13 had fallen for the first time on record. Some have blamed the drop on a tougher visa regime and the withdrawal, in 2012, of the automatic right to work in the UK for two years after graduation.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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