UK Looks to Revive International Education Sector


Britain’s new Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson wants the UK to increase its weakening international education sector, and believes that Indian students in particular are key to the revitalization.

The Asian Correspondent reports the number of Indian students attending schools in the UK fell from 18,535 in 2010-2011 to 10,235 in 2012-2013, according to a Higher Education Funding Council for England report.

“We have a strong offering to the world, which explains why we are currently the second most popular destination for international study, after the USA,”  said Johnson.  “But I am concerned that some feel the UK does not welcome students as warmly as we once did and that there has been a decline of student numbers from some of our key partners, most notably India.”

He adds there will be no cap on the number of students who will be welcomed to study in the UK, nor will there be in the future. There will also not be a cap on former students if they have a graduate job. The minister warned that only “genuine students” will be admitted since there have been “unscrupulous organizations and misleading websites” which the government plans to expose.

The challenge will become allowing more students into the UK when the Conservative Party’s hope is also to reduce net migration into the country to the tens of thousands per year. Johnson’s plan is aimed at improving the country’s international image, not reforming the visa system for international students.

“It is a personal aim of mine to overcome misconceptions about the UK in such important countries [as India],” said Johnson. “Data tells a good tale. Once here, Indian students’ satisfaction rate is 90%. And most of those say they would recommend their universities to others.”

University leaders are critical of the previous coalition government’s plan and said that its wording and the removal of post-study work visas was difficult for international students. School chancellors also want to see international students taken off net migration numbers, says Rebecca Ratcliffe writing for The Guardian.

The minister explained that the government was genuine when it says it would welcome international students, but the students had to be genuine also.

Johnson acknowledged that universities would have to put in place a strict system of exit checks to keep tabs on any instances of students who stay in the country longer than is regulated. The Conservative initiative says it will give the responsibility of overseeing those who run afoul of the visas’ terms to visa sponsors — universities.

Johnson said he was committed to continue making science spending a priority since the government is fully behind science funding and research. He said also that attracting international students has three business streams: income from students’ tuition; the possibility of basing institutions in overseas locations; and technology-enabled offerings.

The British Council’s ‘Going Global’ conference in London, attended by 1,200 higher education leaders from over 70 countries, took place last week, writes Rebecca Marriage, reporting for Relocate Magazine. Johnson addressed the gathering and let the audience know that the UK must continue to attract the brightest and the best. The British Council’s Chief Executive Ciarán Devane emphasized that openness was the “lifeblood of learning” and an open environment was the most important factor for education to succeed. She told delegates, “If there is a ‘global culture’ in any meaningful sense, it has connection, diversity and openness at its core.”

John Morgan of Times Higher Education writes that Johnson explained how international students contribute to the country’s research capacity, help the country maintain its first-class STEM programs, and “stimulate demand for courses where domestic demand alone can be insufficient to sustain them.”