Recruitment challenges debated at HE forum

21 March, 2014

Now is a good time to expand international education exports was the message from David Willetts, UK Minister for Universities and Science, at the International Higher Education Forum 2014 yesterday, with a promise that there would be no restrictions on the number of international students.

UK Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, addresses the International Higher Education Forum 2014

Held at the conference centre of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), a number of opportunities and challenges under the theme of Recruiting and retaining students: fundamental tools for international strategy were explored during the event, jointly organised by Universities UK, the Higher Education International Unit and UK Trade & Investment.

“We are starting from the point of no cap on genuine international students and we aren’t going to introduce a cap,” said Willetts in his keynote address. “We recognise that international education is good for the UK; we are strengthened by the connections, campus life is more diverse and there is a revenue benefit,” he said, highlighting that international education is the UK’s second largest export to China, behind only motor cars.

He also pledged support for TNE and supporting higher education systems around the world, citing domestic growth in Indonesia. “We should be alongside them, celebrating it and supporting it.” Many traditional sender countries are also eager to receive British students, he added. Willetts highlighted a UK£32 million (US$52.7 million) increase in funding for the UK’s Chevening scholarships, which had been unveiled in the previous day’s budget announcement.

The speech from Minister Willetts came in the middle of an afternoon plenary session on markets and government support, sandwiched between a video-link talk on OECD data and funding by Professor Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD Secretary General, and a presentation by Karen McBride, President and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE).

McBride shared some comparative insights from Canada’s experience, where international students have increased by 94 per cent in the last 11 years. She highlighted the results of a 2013 student survey on future plans, which showed 46 per cent intended to work permanently in Canada, with another 25 per cent planning to work in Canada for three years after graduation.

In the morning keynote address, Professor Simon Marginson, Professor of International Higher Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, examined the changing landscape of global higher education. He highlighted challenges in the shape of increasing investment in competitor countries, notably Asia, as well as global ranking systems such as Pisa, but also underlined the growth potential for student recruitment from the growth of Asia’s middle class, anticipated to expand from 525 million in 2009 to 1.74 billion in 2020.

Discussion group sessions during the day included: ways of assessing and dealing with new market opportunities; using online delivery; understanding the expectations of international students through the applications process; and interpreting trends to make the most out of new developments.

The latter workshop, chaired by Dr Neil Kemp OBE, International Education Consultant, demonstrated the differing source markets of the UK’s perceived competitors, highlighting that the UK has a greater diversity mix and lesser dependence on China than most destinations. He also drew on data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency to show that international enrolments at the Russell Group universities have soared, while the other university groups have flat lined or declined.

Chair of the conference, Professor Colin Riordan, Chair of the UK Higher Education International Unit and Vice-Chancellor at Cardiff University said international education would be the “big driver of change” in his opening address, adding institutions that recognise the future is global will be successful.

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