Universities should stop approaching discussions with the UK government about the benefits of international students in an “antagonistic” way, and instead promote their worth through relatable stories, a conference has heard.
Speaking to delegates at the Westminster Higher Education Forum about promoting the UK as a destination of choice for overseas students, Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International (UUKi), said that higher education should not argue differences of opinion with the prime minister, Theresa May, on the basis of a “dialogue of the deaf”.
While she believed that Ms May was wrong in linking worries about immigration to the number of international students in the country, she said that immigration was a “source of genuine concern” for voters and that universities had to argue the “benefits of globalisation” to the general public in a better way.
“Some of the political changes we’ve been seeing…we cannot dismiss as simply a lack of understanding by the people in society who are not perhaps accessing high-quality higher education, [in contrast to] those of us who somehow know the answer,” she said.
Ms Stern added that it was important to explain “the opportunity the UK enjoys to bring people from all over the world to contribute, not only to our universities as students and academics, but also to many other parts of our economy.
“If there is still that view that this area of life has ‘nothing to do with me because I didn’t go to university, my children aren’t going’…we’ve got a job to do, not only to quote people facts, stats and economic impact [but] bring it down to the level of stories.”
She added that the sector had been “underwhelming” in promoting its strengths and needed “new advocates” from society. She cited the UK’s strong global position in terms of student satisfaction, recommendation as a place to study and student experience based on a UUKi-commissioned report that used data from i-graduate, an international student experience analyst.
Her words echoed the comments of Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), who said earlier at the forum that the sector was highly rated for its international offer but could not “sit on our laurels”.
“Ninety per cent of students in higher education are satisfied or very satisfied with what they’ve got,” he said. “[However], 90 per cent to me is 10 per cent of international students coming to the UK who are not entirely satisfied.”