UK needs ‘clear vision’ on overseas recruitment, says Skidmore

International students are ‘part of the solution, and not the problem’, says ex-minister on launch of new commission

November 7, 2022
Chris Skidmore

The UK needs a new international education strategy to provide a “clear vision” for the sector, according to a former universities minister.

Chris Skidmore, who launched the existing strategy in one of his two spells as universities minister in the Westminster government, which spanned 2018 to 2020, is establishing an International Education Commission to draw up policy proposals for what a replacement could look like.

The existing strategy, published in 2019, set a target for UK universities to recruit 600,000 international students by 2030 – a goal that was apparently achieved within little over a year.

But the appointment – and rapid return following her resignation – of Suella Braverman as home secretary may have changed the political climate for international student recruitment, with the right-wing MP having raised concerns about the number of overseas learners coming to the UK and, significantly, the number of dependants she described as “piggybacking” on student visas.

The increasingly challenging economics of educating domestic students while tuition fees remain rooted at £9,250 against a backdrop of soaring inflation have also led to claims that overseas learners are being given university places at the expense of British school-leavers.

Mr Skidmore, now a backbencher who is also leading a review of net zero for the government, said that international students were “vital to the social and economic success of the UK and ensuring we remain an outwardly focused and engaging nation that remains relevant to the modern international world”.

He said that the commission – which is being supported by Oxford International Education Group – would consider what a future international recruitment target should be, which countries should be targeted, and how to ensure universities do not become over-reliant on certain countries for overseas enrolments.

“Now more than ever before the sector needs a clear vision of what our international education strategy needs to be,” said Mr Skidmore, the MP for Kingswood.

“Three years on since I launched the first strategy, the sector has met the targets set out and is in need of a new framework. But with a new strategy needs to come greater recognition that we must have a more granular and sustainable approach to international education – one that doesn’t just treat students as numbers on a spreadsheet but can deliver the best possible outcomes for every individual – including, crucially, for domestic UK students.

“At the same time, with other countries outpacing the UK with more attractive post-study work visas, we need to wake up to the fact that international students are part of the solution, and not the problem, to future UK success. 

“That’s why I have decided to establish this International Education Commission to bring the sector together to set out clearly what is needed, and the policies and frameworks that should be promoted if we have a chance of sustaining our international student pathways for the future,” Mr Skidmore said.

The commission will have a membership of representatives from across the UK and will hold a series of round-table discussions, which will be used to draw up a suggested strategy for the sector, which will be submitted to the Department for Education.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles