The British Council’s Chief Executive, Martin Davidson, outlined his ‘future-proof’ approach to achieving sustainable and long-term growth in UK higher education, in his speech to the Universities UK Conference last Wednesday 12th September
In the wake of last week’s QS 2012 Universities rankings placing four UK universities in the top six, Mr Davidson remarked that “We have been experiencing a golden era for UK HE: a magic combination of quality institutions, ground-breaking research and the ability to attract high volumes of international students.”
The OECD’s 2012 ‘Education at a glance’ report, published on September 11th, estimates the UK’s ‘market share’ of international students in 2010 at 13%. This is a significant increase since the previous report when OECD (2011) estimated the market share in 2009 at 9.9%. This 3% growth, given the continuous decline experienced over the past decade is only possible if the UK’s annual growth was higher than the world’s average.
The OECD report also estimated that the UK is the only country among the key competitor set that has seen an increase in its market share. For the same period, the US’s lead in the global market share has declined from 18% in 2009 to 16.6%, Australia declined from 7% to 6.6% (mainly due to tighter immigration), Germany remained unchanged at 6.6% and France has seen some marginal decline from 6.8% to 6.4%.
In his speech to the conference however, Mr Davidson referred to the British Council’s recent ‘Shape of things to come’ research and warned delegates that the UK’s position in the global market won’t last indefinitely, and that the British Council’s research suggested the UK has a decade or so to capitalise on this golden reputation.
“I fully believe that a deep and comprehensive approach to engagement between the UK sector and education sectors around the world is the best way for us to move forward.” Mr Davidson said. “The British Council has recently worked with partners including UUK, UKTI and BIS to set up UK Education Services to provide a significant boost to the UK’s international education exports.
“This is a significant move in the right direction, but we believe that long-term success requires an even broader and more inclusive approach to Higher Education - A whole system approach in which UK universities, Government Departments, Research Councils and the British Council work together to engage with the systems of other countries.”
Mr Davidson explained to delegates where a system to system approach would be most effective. “Traditional small-scale bi-lateral institutional partnerships are not enough. A complete and deep and sustained engagement between the UK’s sector and the Higher Education sectors of other countries is required,” Mr Davidson said. “Partnership should be based on mutual benefit and reciprocal relationships – creating a more connected Higher Education network right through from institutions to service providers, and not just for the purpose of selling our Higher Education offer to them. In the long run this will deliver more economic value to the UK.”
“We also believe that a successful approach will build upon rather than change existing relationships within UK Higher Education and between Higher Education institutions around the world. Scholarship, critical thought and academic freedom are the hallmarks for which UK universities are known and respected around the world. These should absolutely still remain at the heart of our Higher Education, and through global collaboration be at the heart of international Higher Education. What we are proposing is building on our very significant strengths. It is evolution, not revolution” Mr Davidson told delegates.
Mr Davidson concluded by saying that for the UK to achieve this coherent international agenda, the sector should consider working in partnership with private companies, and expanding into new market economies like India, Mexico and Colombia. Pointing to the British Council’s education operations in those countries, Mr Davidson explained that both countries provide an ideal environment for a system to system approach, with open and growing urban economies, and young urban populations.
“We hope to increase the UK’s share in Mexico’s education system by establishing a research fund, partnerships, growing the number of Mexican students in UK, placing UK students in Mexican companies, opening up opportunities for UK training providers in Mexico’s Training and Vocational Education and English Language Teaching sectors, as well as for services like ICT and publishing.” Mr Davidson said. “To achieve this, and particularly in the context of austerity, we don’t require new organisations or institutions but new strategic alliances and partnerships to harness the best of what each have to offer.”