India and Indonesia among UK sector’s priority overseas markets

Update to government’s international education strategy names five target countries and provides more detail on Turing scheme

February 6, 2021
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The UK government has announced a set of priority countries to help achieve its goal of growing overseas student recruitment to 600,000 by 2030 in an update to its international education strategy.

A new report from the Department for Education and the Department for International Trade reaffirms its commitment to achieving the recruitment target as well as its ambition to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English-language teaching abroad, by 75 per cent to £35 billion a year, despite the pandemic.

The update to the international education strategy, which revises a document first published in March 2019, adds that Sir Steve Smith, the recently appointed international education champion, will focus on growing export opportunities in five countries: India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

China is absent from this list of priority markets, but it is included as one of several “important regional markets”, alongside Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe and Hong Kong. There have been concerns in government, and within the sector, that universities have been over-reliant on Chinese students. The new document says it will “support the sector to widen the range of countries and regions from which international students are recruited”.

The government adds that it will work with Sir Steve and the British Council to identify and resolve barriers that prevent the recognition of online and blended learning internationally. It also promises to improve the international student experience in the UK by exploring the application process for overseas students, graduate outcomes and employability, the academic experience and alternative student finance.

Sir Steve said the fact that the report sticks to the original recruitment and export targets despite the pandemic was “a statement of the confidence that government has in the strength of the education sector”.

“Whilst there are undeniably going to be some changes in the short term because of the pandemic and Brexit, it's very reassuring for me in my role and for the whole education sector that the government has that faith and, since the launch of the strategy in 2019, has done things to support the education sector, specifically the changes on visas,” he said.

Sir Steve added that the five priority countries were picked on the basis that they would account for the most growth. He said that “China is clearly going to continue to be a major partner and market, but the realisation of having too many eggs in one basket is the issue”.

The report also includes new details on the Turing scheme – the government’s domestic alternative to the European Union’s Erasmus+ student exchange programme. It says that a call for bids will open in March and it expects “tuition fees to be waived for Turing scheme participants, consistent with the arrangements for Erasmus+”.

A new Turing scheme website says that when bidding, providers will need to demonstrate how their project will support widening access and the assessment criteria will be heavily weighted towards this criterion. It adds that it will actively target and promote the scheme in geographical areas of disadvantage, “thereby helping to level up the country”.

Meanwhile, the minimum duration of a placement has been reduced to four weeks to make going abroad more accessible to a wider group of students.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that opening up access to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds was “a laudable ambition” but the scheme “needs the resources to match it”. She noted that Turing’s £110 million-a-year pot was around £83 million less than the UK received from the Erasmus+ scheme.

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Reader's comments (4)

While the point of diversifying client countries is to mitigate risks, isn't doubling down on marketisation the opposite of what should happen to higher education? I don't know about the four other countries, but the economy of Nigeria is quite volatile atm (not just because of Corona, but there's a rising prospect of economic related social unrests), and it might be a risky basket to bank on. The system of relying on foreign students to fund higher education might need to be re-examined?
India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. An interesting list, I wonder what criteria were used to identify these countries? Countries with a good record on Human Rights does not seem to compute well but purchasers of weapons manufactured by UK owned companies comes to mind. A target of 600,000 overseas students a year, seems to me to be too high, given the likely number of UK domestic undergraduates by 2030, against a background on more funds for FE rather than HE. At this level we may have to limit the percentage of total students from overseas at specific Universities to obtain a sensible balance.
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