UK urged to learn from Australia on ‘higher education as trade’

Minister emphasises transnational education, sidestepping mention of Home Office visa policy

March 21, 2017
australia cargo
Source: Getty

The UK has been urged to learn from Australia’s experience of treating higher education as an export industry and including it in international trade agreements, as the nation contemplates a post-Brexit future.

Higher education as trade was a theme in the opening session at Universities UK’s International Higher Education Forum, held in London on 21 March.

Mark Garnier, parliamentary under-secretary in the Department for International Trade, told the event: “We will harness the UK’s commitment, expertise and resources to export our education services to the world, so that everyone can use education as a vehicle to fulfil their potential.”

However, Mr Garnier’s focus was almost exclusively on transnational education – the provision of courses outside an institution’s home country. That approach sidestepped any mention of the Home Office’s policy of toughening the UK’s student visa regime and of continuing to include students within targets to reduce net migration – policies criticised by universities and some in the Conservative Party.

"Many countries with a large school-leaver population are without sufficient higher education in the country to meet demand," Mr Garnier said. "This presents a huge export opportunity for our top-class educational institutions…and we look to fill this demand.”

He added that the DIT has recruited a new higher education specialist "to support the sector’s global ambitions”.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, who chaired the session, said that the UK would "look particularly" to Australia to learn about a higher education sector's experience of trade negotiations, which were, she added, "something I think we’re all going to have to get a little bit more familiar with".

Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor of the University of Wollongong, cited Australian government figures showing that education service exports were worth $19.9 billion (£12.2 billion) to the nation’s economy in 2015-16, behind only iron ore and coal.

“From a political point of view, we moved from 20 years ago not being on this chart [of exports], to being one of the most significant and important [export] sectors for Australia,” Professor Wellings said.

He highlighted the fact that Australia’s free trade agreement with Singapore, struck in 2003, makes specific mention of higher education and quality assurance as areas where exchange “shall” take place.

On any potential UK-Australia trade deal post-Brexit, Professor Wellings suggested that student and staff mobility would be “deal breakers”.

Another of the session’s speakers, Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, highlighted how leading universities "need to draw on a global talent pool for students and faculty, and they need to be researching in collaborative teams across borders to solve the world’s shared grand challenges".

Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, contrasted the “extraordinary growth in nationalism across many countries” with the goal of universities “to propagate knowledge, propagate mutual understanding across the world”.

He said the decisions of McLaren to open a supercar chassis factory in Sheffield and of Boeing to build a new manufacturing facility in the city were “all because international students enable us to get 5,000 engineering students” in the city.

“If we go away from the idea that we are international, we will lose almost everything as institutions,” he added.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns