Tuesday 13 March 2012

Britain stands to reap the rewards of a "decade of opportunity" in global higher education, as long as it makes the right moves in developing markets around the world, a new British Council study shows.

The number of international students choosing to study in Britain is set to rise faster than overseas student enrolments anywhere else in the world outside of Australia, the study predicts.

But this growth is set against an expected global slowdown in the number of internationally mobile students, and will be significantly smaller than the increasing intake of overseas students experienced by UK higher education over the past ten years.

British universities and colleges will therefore need to focus as much on new opportunities to educate more international students in their home countries and on international research collaboration as on attracting students to the UK, if they are to realise their full global potential.

‘The shape of things to come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020’, commissioned by the British Council, shows that within the next decade nearly 30,000 more international students can be expected to join university courses in the UK – more than its greatest higher education competitor the United States – as Britain benefits from its links with rapidly growing countries, particularly India.

But competition for increasing numbers of globally mobile students will remain strong, especially from the US and Canada, with higher university tuition fees and tougher visa rules in the UK potentially impacting negatively on the international popularity of our universities and colleges, warns a report on the study’s findings, to be published next month.

The research and the issues it raises will be debated at the British Council’s ‘Going Global’ conference to be held in London from March 13 to 15, and opened by the Right Honourable Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills. The Conference will be the largest ever gathering of the world’s higher education leaders.

Education is currently the fifth largest service export sector in the UK economy, representing 8.4% of total service exports. Analysis of demographic, economic, and educational drivers and trends in over 50 key countries suggests that the UK’s economy could reap the rewards of a "decade of opportunity" through global higher education and research as long as its universities, colleges and businesses make the right moves in emerging markets, with support from Government. 

The report: ‘The shape of things to come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020’ pinpoints where these emerging markets are, and the nature of the opportunities they present both to higher education and business and industry. It highlights the importance of prospects for more international collaboration on research and development, as well as teaching of international students both in the UK and in their home countries.

Dr Jo Beall, the British Council’s Director of Education and Society, said the study showed that the UK was in a strong position not only to further strengthen its place as one of the world’s leading study destinations, but also to forge new international research partnerships and collaborative ventures with universities and colleges overseas. "Our study shows that the next ten years are critical - the UK has a decade of opportunity ahead of it, if its universities, colleges, business leaders and policy makers are ready to take decisive steps to engage with the global higher education market. In an increasingly connected and interdependent world, a willingness and ability to collaborate internationally and to respond to changing trends are vital. We cannot afford to miss out on the prospects highlighted in this report." 

Much of the predicted growth in international student numbers for the UK will be fuelled by rising demand for university places from India, which is forecast to overtake China as the world’s fastest growing source of globally mobile students. It will also be driven by the UK’s high and expected growing share of other rapidly expanding markets including Nigeria, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. 

The study forecasts that only Australia will lead the UK on international student recruitment, taking in over 50,000 more overseas students by 2020. This is largely due to its proximity to expanding markets and it not being exposed to falling demand from students in mainland Europe – which is already affecting the UK through its rise in university tuition fees. As a growing number of university researchers seek international partners to work on solutions to global problems, the best opportunities for research collaboration for the UK are expected to be in the US, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Australia. 

For large companies seeking international collaboration on research and development, multinational corporations in the US, Europe, China, India and Latin America present the best prospects, along with emerging niche opportunities in the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Israel. Another expanding area where the UK stands to do well is Transnational Education, where students are based in a different country from the one where the university awarding their degree is located. UK universities hoping to establish new branch campuses should seek openings in China, the Far East, and Middle East, while the best countries for developing franchised courses will be Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong, the study suggests. 

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide. We work in over 100 countries in the arts, education and English and in 2010/11 we engaged face to face with 30 million people and reached 578 million. We have 6,800 staff worldwide. Our total turnover in 2010/11 was £693 million, of which our grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was £190 million. The remainder was generated through trading activities such as English language teaching. For every £1 of taxpayer money invested we earn £2.65 in additional income. For more general information, please visit: www.britishcouncil.org