At a time when everyone is competing for the lucrative overseas student market, the UK just can’t seem to get it together. Canada’s recent investment of millions to promote it as a study destination, Australia’s rethinking visa regulations, and the waking of the sleeping giant – the USA – to international student recruitment: all have been well-documented. Education hubs like Malaysia, the UAE, and Singapore are vying for students from the region and beyond. Nations are making a concerted and organized effort to attract international students with slick marketing campaigns, hard work and huge investments.
Not so the UK, or so it seems. To an outsider it might look like international students aren’t welcome here with the stricter visa regulations and the very public government announcement to curb migration. (see this article in The PIE News: UK Home Office: no change on migrant count) Unlike many other countries, we don’t have a government-led promotion of the UK as a fantastic place to study. We used to, with the British Council’s Education UK partnership, but that ended a couple of years ago and nothing has taken its place.
Last week, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) along with UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) made this announcement: “New team to help UK exploit international opportunities in education exports”. Wait a minute! Doesn’t ‘Education UK’ already exist and doesn’t the brand belong to the British Council? It begged the question, did anyone in BIS/UKTI think to talk to the BC about it before the announcement?
It seems the answer to that was, ‘No’. A swift response to the BIS/UKTI announcement came two days later in the form of a press release from the British Council. You can read it here: “British Council response to Education UK unit”. It looks like the two organizations haven’t spoken to one another to find out what went before, the work that each are doing and where they are going with it to promote UK education abroad.
UK higher education can’t afford this squabbling about whose responsibility it is to take control of our education exports. As a colleague pointed out, we are quickly losing ground to competitor study destinations who will only be too happy to take our share of the market. As a sector, UK HE and other stakeholders such as UUK, UKTI, BIS, British Council, and the UKBA need to hash out exactly what needs to be done to get UK higher education back into the global public eye and who is going to do it. We have some of the best universities in the world here, first-class research and innovation, excellent student services, and a beautiful, safe, dynamic and historic country. Let’s show students everywhere what they’ll get when they choose the UK.
Infighting, and a lack of organization and communication might just cost education providers and the UK economy billions in the next few years, but the real losers in all this will be the students. Students who might otherwise have had a positive and life-changing experience studying in the UK won’t get the chance, because they won’t know it exists.
Here we go again….