UK launches growth strategy for education exports

July 30, 2013

The UK government has released an industrial growth strategy for international education exports that targets a “realistic” 15-to-20 per cent growth in international students enrolled in higher education institutions over the next five years, as well as growth in other education sectors.

Source – Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Issued by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity outlines the UK’s current status and potential for future expansion across all sectors, as well as in transnational education, research collaboration and other related education products.

The report said, “We believe it is realistic for numbers of international students in higher education to grow by 15-to-20 per cent over the next five years.” Such growth would equate to an additional 70,000-to-100,000 students, and BIS projects that 3.7 per cent annual growth would lead to tuition fee income rising from UK£3.9 billion (US$5.9bn) in 2011/12 to UK£4.4 billion (US$6.7bn) in 2020 (in 2011 prices).

BIS used data from Study Travel Magazine in its calculations on the global value of the ELT study abroad industry and the UK’s market share within it. Although no specific growth targets for ELT were stated, the strategy document said, “With the UK’s position as the ‘home of English’ and many people preferring to learn English from native speakers, the UK ELT sector is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities arising from growth in this global market.”

Overall, BIS estimates the value of education exports to the UK in 2011 at UK£17.5 billion (US$26.7), 75 per cent of which was derived from tuition and living expenses.

The strategy document is largely positive in its summary of the role of agents in the UK’s international education sector, especially in many key markets. “Agents offer a cost-effective approach to the challenge of recruiting simultaneously in a range of countries, and provide valuable local knowledge and routes for connecting with potential students.”

The British Council’s existing agent training scheme was endorsed by BIS, which said Education UK would publish a single list of trained agents on its website. Nonetheless, further regulation of the agent sector was deemed unnecessary and counterproductive.

In support of transnational education, English UK is planning to pilot an international accreditation scheme for English language teaching organisations in two countries: one in Europe and one in Central America. The government is also consulting on strengthening quality assurance of higher education delivered overseas, while the Department of Education has introduced a voluntary quality assurance scheme for British secondary schools based overseas.

The strategy document does note a number of challenges the UK faces, including negative perceptions of visa changes and unfavourable post-study work right comparisons with competitor destinations. Furthermore, increasing country competition from established and emerging destinations as well as multinational global providers was highlighted.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said the strategy came at a crucial time, with evidence of a slowdown in international enrolments. “The challenge will be to make sure the UK’s student visa rules are properly understood internationally and that international students do not become caught in efforts to bear down on immigration.”

The government has identified eight priority countries and one region for increased engagement: China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia and the Gulf. An International Education Council (IEC) will be established to provide high-level oversight and support for implementation of the strategy, and will be co-chaired by a newly appointed UK Education Champion along with David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science.

In terms of marketing, education is being integrated into the country’s GREAT Britain marketing platform, with campaigns to run in a number of key markets. Following successful consortium bidding with Brazil’s Science Without Borders programme, the UK is also targeting a consortium approach for Colombia and Mexico that will include several education sectors.

Welcoming the strategy, English UK Chief Executive Tony Millns, who will be a member of the IEC, said it was good that the government had recognised education could be a key growth sector and was helping to support exports. “It is especially good that the English language is an integral part of the strategy, since English is arguably our most successful export ever and a source, along with our education, heritage and culture, of much of the UK’s soft power.”

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