UK business schools and universities should think about “in-country engagement” with India to counteract uncertainty over immigration policies and the outcomes of Brexit, a conference has heard.
Richard Heald, chief executive of the UK-India Business Council (UKIBC), made the comments at a session on maintaining strong relationships with India and China at the Chartered Association of Business Schools’ annual conference.
Mr Heald, who had given a brief presentation on higher education opportunities for British institutions in India, was responding to a question about how Brexit and visa worries would offset the opportunities he described.
He noted the “significant fall in Indian students, certainly undergrads” in the UK, but said institutions could counteract this through “exporting your content, your knowledge, your expertise – both on a research basis but also on an educational basis”.
“If we are going to hang our strategy on post-work visa regulation or waiting for Brexit, I think the train will have left the station,” he told the audience. “I think the game, as far as yourselves are concerned, is very much in-country engagement.
“[Despite] the noise that you’re seeing in the press [about the government’s recent trade trip to India], the actual mood music is far different. There is something like 150 million people who will be going through higher education shortly in India, and that is a significant pool of opportunity.”
He said that as the Indian government addresses the “glacial pace” at which state education systems have moved forward, there is ample opportunity to work with the private sector, both from a “for-profit and not-for-profit basis”.
Giles Blackburne, executive director of China Outbound at the China-Britain Business Council, said he saw a similar situation in Asia.
“One thing that’s remarkable is the increase in the quality of local delivery in China over the last 5 to 10 years,” he said. “It’s particularly visible [in] business schools, [which] are moving up the rankings.
“I don’t know whether the opportunities can offset the fall in student numbers [going to the UK], but I think ahead of that, it’s about getting into the market and trying to collaborate with business schools on the ground, looking for common ground particularly in relation to the bigger-picture opportunities. Collaboration with British institutions is something that’s warmly welcomed.”
Jean Chen, dean of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University’s international business school, said that while there are “funding opportunities in China” at government level, companies are also “very willing to invest in business schools, if they’re good”. Mr Heald agreed that “brand image is a concern”.
“The HR directors of the major companies who act as the important people in terms of recruiting your [graduates], they have a very thin knowledge of who is who,” he said.
“They will have heard of [the University of Oxford’s] Saïd [Business School], they will have heard of Cambridge, [some of] the Ivy League, but once you get below that level, top 10-top 15, both UK and Indian, they do not differentiate,” he said. “We have to do a better job at educating these [people] on the value of the brand, collectively and individually.”