Minister warns against UK over-reliance on Chinese students

Chris Skidmore says UK must increase diversity of its international intake

January 28, 2020
Chris Skidmore

UK higher education institutions may be too reliant on Chinese students, the universities minister has warned.

Chris Skidmore said it was important that the UK was open to international students “who enrich not only our universities, but the communities they are based in”, economically and socially.

However, he told Universities UK’s conference on international graduate employability that he was concerned about “an over-reliance on one country”. He pointed out that the latest statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Authority showed there were more than 120,000 Chinese students in the UK in 2018-19.

This means that they make up a third of all non-EU international students and, according to a recent analysis by Times Higher Education, fee income from Chinese students is likely to account for more than 10 per cent of all income at a growing number of UK universities.

Mr Skidmore said universities needed to “ensure that they continue to diversify their intake, including new and emerging markets”.

He said that the reintroduction of post-study work visas in the UK “made it clear Britain is open to international students”.

“We should look at where we can increase the number of international students,” he said. He noted that the number of Indian students at UK institutions had increased by 35 per cent on the previous year, reversing a downward trend in numbers since 2010. “I want to see the trend from India and elsewhere growing,” he said.

Communication, such as between universities and students and universities and industry, was incredibly important to ensure employability for international students but also ensure that there is support for international students throughout their overall experience, Mr Skidmore said. “They are not just cash cows…They will be ambassadors to the UK, acting as evangelists for the UK in their respective countries,” he said.

Speaking about the government’s recent announcement of a new fast-track visa programme for researchers, Mr Skidmore said he wanted to make it clear that the Global Talent Scheme is not just for scientists and engineers but arts and social science academics too. This was the first step, along with an external review of research bureaucracy, in actively working to recruit leaders in academic fields. “You will see a number of announcements still to come to bring international talent to our shores,” he said.

“While we are leaving the [European Union], we are not leaving our European partnerships behind,” Mr Skidmore said. He also said that he knew the benefits of taking part in the Erasmus+ scheme and was looking at how to be involved in Erasmus+. However, he added that “we are preparing for all eventualities and looking at domestic alternatives”.

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