Where the world meets to learn, earn and discover

November 9, 2006

Whatever foreign students are looking for, the 'knowledge capital' has it, says Geoffrey Copland

London acts as a gateway to the UK for investment and foreign trade and is a major attraction for tourists, students and workers from all over the world. It has the greatest concentration of higher education in any world city and therefore plays a pivotal role in global higher education.

London is also the most popular destination for international students - its total of 83,000 is well ahead of its closest competitors, New York (62,000) and Sydney (42,000). London's international students come from more than 200 countries. These students are important to London's economy. In 2001, it was estimated that they contributed £750 million a year. But money is only half the picture: foreign students bring talent, energy and a multicultural vibrancy that adds to London's unique richness.

Its position at the centre of the world's time zones, with five international airports, makes it the ideal place to congregate for study, research partnerships and business. As a world city, London competes with New York, Tokyo, Paris and Frankfurt for investment and talent. More than 2,500 US companies have offices here, and the City handles a third of world foreign exchange turnover and half of Europe's investment banking activity.

Why is London such a popular destination? The simple reason is that it is one of the best places in the world to be a student or researcher.It is the world's most diverse and multicultural city: with more than 300 languages spoken, most people feel at home here. The education sector is equally diverse, with 200 countries represented. Then there is its unparalleled knowledge infrastructure: it has more than 200 museums (twice as many as Paris or New York), 120 historic buildings, 150 theatres, 8,000 acres of parkland, 33 sites of scientific interest, 37,000 listed buildings and four World Heritage sites. Whatever you are looking for, it's probably here.

In terms of careers, the city has great advantages over its rivals. Research by Think London indicates that eight out of ten executives believe that London is better for their career than any other major European capital. And there can be no question that the range and quality of jobs available is a major attraction.

Indeed, the subjects that international students choose to study, and those that attract top-quality researchers, replicate London's strengths in healthcare, creative industries and business and finance in particular. These sectors offer students numerous opportunities to undertake work experience through placements and secondments.

But London should not be complacent. While it is estimated that the number of foreign students is set to increase, especially as the Chinese and Indian economies develop, there is competition from other English-speaking countries and from non-English-speaking nations in which there is a growing trend to deliver programmes in English. There are also new entrants such as Singapore and Dubai. To help position the capital within this changing landscape, London Higher, in association with the London Development Agency, the Mayor of London and Visit London, has developed the Study London promotional campaign ( www.studylondon.ac.uk ).

London is unique. It has an enviable world-class and internationally renowned academic cluster and is the most multiculturally diverse city in the world. It is a city of limitless opportunity and quite rightly the world's knowledge capital.

Geoffrey Copland is vice-chancellor of Westminster University and vice-chairman of London Higher.

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