The UK government should reallocate part of its foreign aid budget to fund a global university scholarship programme and boost its “soft power”, according to a thinktank.
In a new report, ResPublica claims that higher education and research can become “soft power assets” for the UK. The study, Britain’s Global Future: Harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions, calls for the establishment of a global scholarship programme that would annually fund 5,000 international students studying in the UK and 5,000 UK students studying abroad.
It says this could bring the three major existing government-affiliated scholarship schemes for international students to study in the UK – Chevening, Commonwealth and Marshall – and a new scheme for UK outward student mobility under a single brand of “Global Britain Scholarships”, with a single management structure.
The report states that the existing inward mobility schemes currently provide scholarships for about 2,600 international students and cost the government £73 million annually.
It estimates that the new programme would cost about £235 million and that a “substantial portion of this” would be funded by reallocating foreign aid spending and allowing students from countries that receive this aid to attend UK universities.
The report adds that the programme should also provide bursaries for 10,000 foreign students studying at branch campuses of UK universities in their own country, at a further cost of around £15 million.
Increasing outward student mobility would be essential for the UK to demonstrate that it is “serious” about the mutual nature of exchange and “avoid charges of arrogance or engagement only on its own terms”, the report says.
“Britain is recognised as a world leader in the quality of its higher education and research offer, and the strength and social contribution of its civil society; these assets should be harnessed for the benefit of citizens in some of the least developed countries around the world,” the report says.
It adds that academic research has shown that “accepting students from more authoritarian states onto exchange programmes in more liberal countries” not only advances their understanding of Western values but can also result in students “advocating on behalf of their host countries when they return to their country of origin”.
The report also calls for the removal of international students from the UK net migration target and for the government to undertake a review into the UK’s student visa system “along the lines of the Knight Review in Australia”, which resulted in the easing of the country’s visa restrictions on overseas students.