UUK tells universities to look overseas to stay competitive

September 10, 2004

More staff, students and business opportunities must come from abroad if UK universities are to remain financially viable, vice-chancellors will be told next week.

Ivor Crewe, vice-chancellor of Essex University and president of Universities UK, is expected to tell delegates at UUK's three-day residential meeting in Oxford that institutions cannot afford to fall behind international competitors in responding to the globalisation of higher education.

He is set to urge the Government to do more to back UK universities' global activities, including their efforts to recruit the best academic staff from around the world and to secure funding for international research.

Professor Crewe's keynote address on Wednesday will return to some of the points he raised in a speech in July to the Centre for Reform think-tank, in which he suggested that it was fair for universities to offer places to full-fee paying overseas students with lower entry grades than those required for home applicants.

Professor Crewe said that despite the imminent introduction of top-up fees for home undergraduates, universities still needed to increase income from overseas student fees if they were to continue to cover the costs of "academic enterprise".

The presence of foreign students and staff was therefore "no longer an optional mildly exotic ingredient of campus life", Professor Crewe said.

But Professor Crewe will stress that universities need to bring an international dimension to all aspects of their work, rather than simply viewing overseas students as a "cash cow" to be milked for all they are worth.

The Government is understood to have been stung by UUK criticism of the Higher Education White Paper, which made little mention of the impact of internationalisation on the sector.

Vice-chancellors will be looking for signs that the issue is now being taken seriously when they hear from Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, who is due to address vice-chancellors on Wednesday.

Mr Clarke will comment on the importance of international links and will explore the broad consequences of the Higher Education Act and the changes it is likely to bring about.

The implications of the expansion of the European Union and growing collaboration between European universities will also be on the conference agenda.

Professor Crewe is also set to use his speech to respond to the final report from the admissions task force led by Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University, which is expected to be published on Tuesday.

Admissions and widening participation issues are likely to receive close attention from Professor Crewe and Mr Clarke.

Baroness Warwick, UUK chief executive, is expected to unveil a new method for universities to employ in modelling their economic impact on a region that has been devised by economists at Strathclyde University.

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