Going Global visits London

12 June, 2015

Going Global, the British Council’s annual conference for leaders of international education, took place in London, UK last week.

Jo Johnson, the UK's new Minister of State for Universities and Science, addresses the Going Global conference. Credit - British Council/David Adamson

Connecting cultures, forging futures’ was this year’s conference theme and afforded 1,200 leaders of international education, including 125 university presidents, vice-chancellors, pro vice-chancellors, and government ministers from over 70 countries the chance to discuss the latest developments and issues in relation to international tertiary education.

British Council Chief Executive, Ciarán Devane, opened the welcome plenary, noting “there could not be a more important room full of people in the entire world”. Devane then invited the UK’s new Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson MP, to address the delegation.

In his first ministerial address, Johnson –  a former international student himself – affirmed that the UK government continued to welcome overseas students to study in the country and that its stellar higher education system was a magnet for some of the brightest young minds.

He added that a fifth of all HE students in the UK hailed from overseas with more than a quarter studying in the UK capital. This demographic of students “helps stimulate demand for courses where domestic demand is lacking”, he said, a nod to declining domestic student enrolments in the UK tertiary sector.

In closing, he noted government was committed to growing international student numbers further. He said, “There will be no cap on international student recruitment. Our ambition is to grow the export from UK£18 billion (US$28 billion) in 2012 to UK£30 billion (US$46.5 billion) by 2020.”

A video address by Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's pro-democracy leader, explored the role higher education institutions play in restructuring democratic societies. She thanked the British Council and the Going Global delegation for all it had done for Burma and for helping its people ‘go global’.

 “Going global is much more than just education, I understand that, but education is a big part of it, and particularly in Burma, going global in the right way will depend a lot on which direction our education system takes. We would like to build up an education system that will make Burma a better, happier place, not just for our people living here but all our friends who come here,” said Suu Kyi.

The two-day event saw more than 250 contributors host various thought-provoking sessions including ‘Big, Bold and Brave: comparing the world’s largest higher education systems’, with input from Russia, the UK, China, India, the USA and Brazil.

As China begins to penetrate the global English language teaching market, panellist Yang Shen, Minister Counsellor for Education in China was asked what exactly characterises China’s HE sector. “Reform - we have been trying to learn from everybody,” he said. In addition, Yang Shen noted China’s ambitions to attract 500,000 international students by 2020. Meanwhile, Dr Patti McGill Peterson, Presidential Advisor – Global Initiatives, Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement, American Council on Education, was quizzed as to whether or not the USA’s higher education system could learn from other large HE systems. “In a word – yes,” she admitted.

Delegates were given an exclusive look at the latest THE Asia University Rankings in another session which revealed China had overtaken Japan for the first time, with a total of 21 universities in the top 100. Questions were raised as to whether Asia could become the next HE superpower. Elsewhere, there was some sound advice from university representatives in relation to university ranking systems. “Don't dwell on overall ranking,” offered Linda Chang, Director of Global Alliances – Office of International Affairs, National Taiwan University. “Understand the author's perspective,” she added. Miguel Antonio Lim, EU Marie Curie PhD fellow, Department of Education, Aarhus University in Denmark, mooted there was only space for so many ranking systems.

The closing plenary was equally as thought-provoking, with five young graduates talking about their own student experiences and what they would have liked to have done differently. George Mpanga, better known by his stage persona George the Poet, told the 1,200-strong crowd that higher education had helped prepare him for the pressures of the music industry.

Going Global 2016 will be held in Cape Town, South Africa from May 3-5.

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