‘Joined-up government’ key to UK international education goals

Trade minister Graham Stuart says cross-government support will allow UK universities to grow overseas student numbers by 30 per cent

September 15, 2021

A renewed spirit of “joined-up government” means that the UK’s plans to attract 600,000 international students by 2030 are achievable despite a predicted slowdown in recruitment caused by the pandemic, says the minister leading efforts to increase education exports.

Graham Stuart, a former Education Select Committee chair who is now minister for exports at the Department for International Trade (DfIT), told Times Higher Education he was optimistic that overseas student numbers would soon rebound and the UK would meet its target of growing overseas student numbers by 30 per cent on 2019 levels.

Overall, the UK is hoping to achieve annual educational exports of £35 billion by the end of the decade compared to £23.3 billion in 2018 under its international education strategy, which was announced in 2019.

“The demand [from students] is there – we need to do everything we can to minimise the current disruption while delivering highest quality education and then look to the future,” said Mr Stuart, who said he shared the view of universities that the 2030 goals, reaffirmed earlier this year, were realistic if “we get out there in the right way and encourage students to come”.

His positivity was, in part, because he believed different government departments were now pulling in the same direction, with work to increase educational exports being coordinated and monitored by the DfIT’s Education Sector Advisory Group, which he co-chairs, said Mr Stuart.

Under previous Conservative administrations, efforts to grow international student numbers championed by the Treasury were hampered by Home Office policies, including the ending of post-study work visas in 2012, which were reintroduced last year, universities claimed.

Mr Stuart said his department now had “really good engagement from the Home Office”, which was helped by the work of his advisory group, which is co-chaired by universities minister Michelle Donelan.

“It’s been fantastic the way in which we have been able to use the group to reach out across government and do that rarest of things that joined-up government can actually deliver,” said Mr Stuart.

“The Home Office has really played its part in making sure that we can send out a message that we are not closed off and we are actually more open than ever before and determined to offer study opportunities for everybody.”

The reintroduction of the post-study visa route had led to a “big uplift in interest and applications from India”, which had been helped by clearer advice to tackle “serious issues in the way in which our immigration rules were read and understood”, continued Mr Stuart, who added that “providing the two years for undergraduates or master’s students to stay in the country to work has gone down very well”.

He also commended the new points-based immigration route, which included opportunities for university students and school students under the age of 18, the “streamlined application process for international students” and the new Erasmus+ replacement scheme – the Turing scheme – which will provide funding for 35,000 students to undertake exchanges overseas.

“It’s part and parcel of seeing students come in, go out, and pleased to say that the government has assisted the whole sector – from independent schools, early years providers, edtech and English language teaching with their presence internationally,” he said.

“These are all key achievements for the sector and the government – we have the support cross-government [that we need] and now we need to get out there and turn those 2030 targets into a reality,” concluded Mr Stuart.


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles