I was delighted as a Governor of the University of Bedfordshire to learn recently that the University had won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade 2011. It won the accolade for “its outstanding achievement in increasing its overseas income by 154 per cent over three years and producing an aggregate of £54m over that period.” The University has a growing global reputation and attracts students from over 100 countries, one of the highest in the UK outside London. They make up over a third of our student population and bring millions of pounds to the local economy.
Deputy Vice Chancellor (External Relations) Professor Ashraf Jawaid said “We have been welcoming students from across the world for many years. Students come here because of our reputation for high quality teaching, excellent research and strong student support. We are modern, vibrant and in touch with the needs of students and employers alike. By 2012 we will have invested £140m in new facilities including a new Campus Centre and halls of residence. We have also drawn up plans for a £20m post-graduate and continuing professional development centre which is due to open in 2013. That investment, together with our close proximity to London and our work with industry, make us an attractive choice for the international market.” I remember when Ashraf came to the University and reviewed his international strategy with me in my then capacity as Chairman of the Marketing & Communications Committee. I was very impressed and gave him every encouragement to go out and achieve it. He did much better than that, exceeding his targets on every count.
Our excellent Vice Chancellor, Professor Les Ebdon CBE added “I am delighted that the Prime Minister has recommended, and the Queen has agreed, to award us this honour. I am very grateful to all the University staff who have helped to achieve this recognition. It’s a tremendous boost for everyone.” And so it is as I remember when we won such an Award at Sony in 1990 we were immensely thrilled and used it in our publicity for some time to come. But the University of Bedfordshire’s achievement is more remarkable. After all Sony had built a factory in Wales with the express purpose of making televisions not just for the UK domestic market but also for export to Europe. In time we became one of the top twenty exporters in the country. But the University is competing on a world stage against many other providers of tertiary education, not just in the UK but also in the USA, Canada and Australia, if you concentrate on English language teaching, and indeed much wider than that.
Earlier this year I was in Hong Kong on a business trip and coincidentally was able to attend the 5th Annual Going Global Conference, the first to be held outside the UK. Organised by the British Council it had the theme 'World Education - the New Powerhouse?' There were around 1000 attendees from 68 countries. Martin Davidson CMG, Chief Executive of the British Council introduced the conference by observing that by 2030 80% of the world’s urban population will be in developing countries with corresponding demand for Higher Education. There is therefore a continuing opportunity for internationally focused Universities. The US & UK dominate today but are losing share. One reason may be that their own students are less minded to study overseas. Only 1.7% of UK students go abroad to study, to my mind a worrying forward indicator of Britain’s probable continued decline in the world economy. By contrast Germany aims for 50% of its university students to spend at least 1 semester abroad.
Sir Donald Tsang Yam-Kuen, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China officially opened the conference with a stimulating address. He began by quoting Francis Bacon’s dictum “knowledge is power” and linked that to St Augustine’s adage that “the world is a book. If you don’t travel you only know a page.” The forecast is for there to be 7.6m international students around the world by 2025 of which 70% will be in in Asia. He went on to say that 25% of Hong Kong’s budget is spent on education – it is the highest spending department with an annual budget of $HK54bn. Hong Kong has a high degree of internationalisation as “the world’s most globalised city.” The non-local student quota is 20% but this includes students from mainland China. Harrow will open an international school in Hong Kong in 2012.
Rt. Hon. David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science then followed by stating that 16% of university students in the UK come from 230 countries, second only to the US in numbers. The coalition is strongly committed to this programme, not surprisingly as it is a major source of export earnings. He then talked about Trans National Education (TNE); there are 24,000 students in Hong Kong at UK endorsed institutions. This has been led by the University of London who count Nelson Mandela among its alumni because he studied while in prison. 45% of research papers are now co-authored with international researchers. Willetts is keen to encourage UK students to study abroad, but made no offerings as to how. He also stated that Sir Tim Berners – Lee had been at a dinner the other night with the PM and himself. He used this as evidence of his pro-science credentials but spoilt it by describing Sir Tim as the inventor of the internet rather than the World Wide Web.
Prof. Tony Chan, President Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Convener, and Head of the Universities committee said that in Hong Kong the number of Universities has grown from 1 to 8 in 50 years. The proportion of high school students going on to attend university has gone from 1% to 20%. He said there are two main global trends:
1. Free flow of talents and services, leads to outsourcing e.g. 10% of US divorces conducted in Bangalore. The priority is creativity.
2. Shift of global economic balance leads to change in direction of student flows. 30 years ago there were zero mainland Chinese students in US, now they exceed those from India. Asian universities are now attracting Western students. There is more government investment and the reverse flow of talent includes professors.
Prof. Olugbemiro Jegede, Secretary General and Chief Executive, Association of African Universities, from Nigeria said that the long term plan in Africa is for knowledge to exceed natural resources. Today there are just 5-7% of Africans in Higher Education but this is set to grow strongly.
Dr Javaid Laghari, Chairman, Higher Education Commission, Pakistan said the Commission has been established for seven years. The Universities have expanded from 98 to 132, and enrolment is up by 300%. The female share has increased from 36% to 46%. The challenge is to train teachers. There are 500 fully funded PhD’s (including overseas) and the number of research papers has increased 6 times. According to Science Watch Pakistan is a rising star. The future challenge is to meet the need for 15,000 PhDs in the next 10 years. They will focus on relevancy e.g. food security, energy, water, technology parks. The Universities will play a key role in building economies, communities and leadership.
Dr Carlos Alexandre Netto from Brazil told us that the private sector accounts for 75% in Brazil, but 120 cities have federal universities. There is now a Brazilian Open University but with just 11,000 PhDs they are below potential in patenting. There is no University more than 120 years old. In internationalisation the enrolling emphasis is on students from Africa and Americas and there are collaborations with France, Germany and Portugal. The target is for 30% of population to be educated to the 3rd level.
Prof Sir Steve Smith, V-C and CEO, University of Exeter, and then President, Universities UK stated that the primary determinant of economic growth is R&D expenditure. There should be a Race to the Top, not the Bottom. There are two dilemmas:
1) Who pays for skill development?
2) How much do you concentrate research?
The conference then broke up into seminars in which there was a great deal of useful and stimulating debate about different business models. It is clear that international higher education is growing strongly in most parts of the world and if the UK is to continue to benefit from this it must become more aggressive and more creative. I was probably the only independent governor present and I found the conference engaging with good attendance and participation. For me international Higher Education resembles international business in that it tends to evolve through progressive stages.
1. Domestic producer starts to export same product. (Sales led)
2. International producer develops specific products for overseas market. (Market led)
3. Global producer produces where the market is. (Integrated global process.)
But while the future for international education looks exciting the Coalition’s confused policies are putting much of this at risk for British universities. The furore over raising tuition fees by a factor of three has been misreported abroad so that potential international students think their fees already north of £9000 will be trebled to £27,000 or more. And then In March the Home Secretary Theresa May announced that from April 2012 overseas graduates would be able to stay on only if they have secured a graduate-level job with a sponsoring employer. Details of the new scheme are still to be worked out but according to this week’s Times Higher Education”the uncertainty is leading Indian students - for whom the ability to work post-graduation is a crucial factor- to opt for study in other English-speaking countries instead. And you can be sure that those countries are exploiting this confusion. Experts in this field are quoted as saying the government risked huge damage to education exports and that sector forecasts of a 25 per cent real-terms growth in overseas fee income by 2013-14 now seem optimistic.
So when as a country we are looking for growth and when we have a market set to grow and when we have a sector well-equipped to deliver that growth it seems nothing short of a scandal that a confused coalition wrestling to reconcile irreconcilable differences between the wings of both its component parties is on course to spoil this opportunity for both institutions and individual students.
Copyright David C Pearson 2011 All rights reserved