David Willetts delivered a speech on international higher education at the Goldman Sachs-Stanford University Global Education Conference on 20 June.
His call for universities to seek alternative financing for expansion overseas comes amid a drive for every government department to identify sources of economic growth.
The minister is also seeking ways for UK universities to maximise the number of overseas students they teach abroad. The government’s tougher immigration controls threaten to cut the number of students able to enter the UK for study at universities.
Mr Willetts said: “Our universities are internationally recognised: they are a great British brand. We can do more to take advantage of our position. Our universities are well financed for what they do but underfinanced for big expansion. I want to see investors from Britain and abroad helping our universities access these big overseas markets. I know that companies like Goldman Sachs who have organised this conference…are keen to investigate this possibility.”
The minister hopes that Goldman Sachs will be able to identify private investors willing to finance developments such as overseas branch campuses and distance-learning operations.
“Last year 400,000 overseas students came to the UK to study,” Mr Willetts said. “But for the first time this was exceeded by the record 500,000 people who benefited from British higher education whilst living abroad. They can do this in many ways. They might study at an overseas campus of a British university.”
Mr Willetts also highlighted the government’s drive to introduce private providers into English higher education. He said there were “many ways an alternative provider can enter our system. We welcome new start-ups and international institutions with experience abroad.
“Or an existing university might set up a commercial subsidiary aimed for example at the overseas market. The current transformation of the College of Law is another example of what can be done provided, of course, charitable funds are protected. I envisage a wider range of providers with a particular focus on teaching, or concentrating on the efficient delivery of licences to practise, or focusing on distance learning.”