Asian rival in London is latest wake-up call for UK about harsh realities of globalisation, writes Tony Tysome
More academic jobs in the UK should go to overseas candidates to ensure that British universities can maintain their worldwide reputation for excellence, the British Council said this week.
Although almost one in five staff in UK institutions is a non-UK national, British Council officials warned that more global competition for jobs was needed to help the UK to keep pace with international competitors in teaching and research, and to ensure that the sector could attract the overseas students so heavily relied upon for income.
The comments from officials taking part in the British Council's Going Global conference in Edinburgh this week were made as it emerged that a private Malaysian university will next year become the first foreign institution from outside the US to open a campus in the UK and compete for students.
Limkokwing University of Creative Technology will open its doors in Piccadilly, London, to 1,000 Malaysian and international students in March.
Initially, it will offer one-year degree courses in business, IT, design, communications and multimedia. Limkokwing London plans eventually to provide full degree programmes at its UK campus for students from Europe and South-East Asia.
The British Council highlighted the development as "a sign of the times"and said it was a wake-up call for UK institutions to the realities of globalisation. Kevin Van-Cauter, the British Council's distance-learning adviser, said: "The university could end up applying to offer UK qualifications here. If that happens, it is likely more foreign institutions will be interested in setting up in Britain.
"There are no barriers to prevent foreign institutions from setting up in the UK. It is a sign of the times because the higher education market is so much more complex now and students have so many more choices."
Pat Killingley, the British Council's director of educational services, said that Limkokwing was one of a number of overseas institutions that had expressed an interest in opening a campus in the UK. She said: "We frequently get inquiries. I think there will be more foreign campuses opening in this country. It is a sign that higher education is becoming an increasingly global activity, and we are facing competition in our own country from institutions that have traditionally been a source of international students."
Ms Killingley said UK institutions were beginning to realise that they would have to operate differently to compete effectively on a global scale, including recruiting more academic talent from overseas.
She said: "British institutions need to be thinking about not only internationalising their curriculum but also about attracting faculty from overseas to bring more of an international perspective to what they do."
Academic union leaders said that the UK had one of the world's most international workforces, in terms of actual employment and global collaboration.
Sally Hunt, University and College Union joint general secretary, said: "To retain this diversity, which is a key part of a flourishing learning environment, universities need to ensure they are recruiting the best people - not the cheapest - whatever their background."
Tom Sastry, senior researcher for the Higher Education Policy Institute, which last year published a report on the flow of academics to and from the UK, said that while there were benefits to attracting talented staff from overseas, British institutions did not have the reserves to recruit as many academics from abroad as competitor institutions in the US.
"Often the best we can do is to send our own people overseas to gain experience and then hope that they come back," he said.