UK ‘must adapt overseas recruitment or decline like car industry’

Senior leader says universities should focus on improving and charging more for transnational education

November 26, 2020
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The UK’s international student recruitment sector will “go the way of the British car industry” and cease to exist in any meaningful way if institutions do not adapt to offer high-quality, higher-cost transnational education and part-time mobility opportunities in the wake of Covid and Brexit, a senior university leader has claimed.

David Pilsbury, deputy vice-chancellor for international development at Coventry University, told THE Live that the UK had to worry not only about its traditional higher education competitors, such as Australia, Canada and the US, but also “a new competitor on the horizon, which is China”.

Speaking during a panel discussion about how international study can be revived in 2021 and beyond, Dr Pilsbury highlighted that China was already the world’s biggest educational system and had implemented some significant reforms, including an internationalisation-at-home agenda. Those factors combined with “the concern that Chinese students still have about health, security and well-being” were “very difficult ratchets to reverse”, he added.

“If we are complacent, if we do not rise to the challenge, if we think we can resume business as usual, we are very much mistaken,” he said.

“We do need to grasp the opportunity to change because some of these driving factors are a long time coming, and if we don’t change now we will go the way of – to use a Coventry example – the British car industry, that relied on its historic markets and its prestige and then suddenly got brought to its knees and no longer existed in any meaningful form.”

Dr Pilsbury said that students were no longer going to want only to come to the UK for the entirety of a three-year degree programme and that institutions had to develop a model for “part-year mobility” and “find a way to make TNE [transnational education] work”.

“If there is one thing that we do that is utterly transactional, in my view it is TNE. A lot of people do it for the cash; they don’t do it properly; they don’t actually make much out of it; and we have to find a way to get the [tuition] fees up for TNE,” he said.

“That means doing it properly, doing it in partnership with institutions overseas. If we can create more value and people will choose it – not as a second choice but as their first proactive choice – then they will choose to pay for it. That’s the way forward for the sector in its entirety because that’s where the demand will be in the future.”

Janet Ilieva, founder and director of Education Insight, who was also on the panel, said she was “quietly and cautiously optimistic” that the UK would still be able to reach its target to grow overseas higher education student numbers to 600,000 by 2030, but she warned that the sector had a lot at stake from Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

“Brexit affects 30 per cent of our international student population. We’ve got geopolitical tensions with China, and this is 25 per cent of our international student population. So in the next two years, we have risks that are touching on half of the international students that we’ve got in the country. On the back of that, we’ve also got a global recession, which is likely to have an impact on the rest of the international student population,” she said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Do these people get paid to state the blatantly obvious? Any International staff who needs told this shouldn’t be in their role.

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