Perceptions of arrogance hurt UK in global market, expert warns

We only want to 'strip out students and give nothing back', conference hears. John Gill reports

October 30, 2008

The "arrogant" and "patronising" approach that UK universities are perceived to adopt in their overseas dealings is damaging the sector, an expert has said.

Pat Killingley, director of educational services at the British Council, echoed a warning from Sir Drummond Bone, reported last week, when she said that a narrow focus on student recruitment was harming the global reputation of British universities.

At a Times Higher Education conference on internationalisation, she said that many countries believed that interest from the UK was limited to "stripping out students and giving nothing back".

She said: "You find that in China, India and most East Asian markets. We asked policymakers what words describe UK higher education, and the answer that came back from all those countries was: 'It's arrogant ... It's patronising ...' That perception is beginning to pervade the whole recruitment market."

Speaking at the same event, Keith Hoggart, vice-principal for external affairs at King's College London, said: "We've got a brand dilemma. I am a bit tired of going to events around the world and being told that all the British want is to take students for their money, and (that they do) not to show any other interest or try to encourage our students to go to that country."

Ms Killingley urged universities to develop partnerships overseas. "You cannot look at student recruitment in isolation; if that's all your strategy is, it isn't going to take you very far - it will crash," she said.

She said most non-European Union students in the UK come from a handful of countries - China, India, the US, Malaysia and Nigeria. Now that some of these countries host foreign students themselves, she said it would become increasingly difficult - and expensive - for the UK to recruit students.

In the case of China, Ms Killingley suggested that the UK's market share of students depended in part on its relative share in bilateral trade.

She also agreed with a delegate's warning that a "catastrophe" scenario, in which a dramatic change of policy by the Chinese Government could halt the flow of students from China, was always a possibility.

The attitude of China is one of "the bigger the better", she said, suggesting that its Government would rather deal with Europe as a bloc than with individual countries such as Britain when it came to international higher education policy.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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