Go back

Government departments join forces to attract overseas students

But observers point to lack of involvement from Home Office

UK Trade and Investment and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are co-funding an expert team to promote UK education abroad.

The ‘Education UK’ unit was announced by Conservative skills minister Matthew Hancock on 20 January. The unit will be located at the BIS offices at 1 Victoria Street in London.

Citing a “fast-growing demand for high-quality education”, Hancock said it was essential to “realise the potential of the largely untapped resource that is our education exports”.

Based in London, the 10-strong team will include civil servants and representatives from the private education sector.

A UKTI statement says it will target “fast-growing markets” in the Middle East and India, focusing on developing trading opportunities, supporting UK providers, and pursuing large-scale commercial opportunities.

The unit will work with the UKTI and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s network of embassies and consulates, as well as the devolved administrations, the British Council, and education organisations.

Commenting on Hancock’s announcement, Beck Smith, assistant director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, told Research Fortnight that the government needs to think carefully about its current immigration policy if it wants to make the most of its universities.

Citing the London Metropolitan University visa “debacle”, Smith said that too many recent messages have been overly negative: “It’s no surprise that there’s been a 24 per cent drop in students from India this year.”

Smith said CaSE hopes the UKTI and BIS initiative can go some way to changing this situation, but said that the quality of UK universities relies on their ability to attract the best researchers.

Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group of smaller, research-intensive universities, also welcomed the initiative, saying that the investment by the UKTI “shows that the UK is open for business and reinforces the message that there is no cap on the number of legitimate students”.

However, he emphasised the need for a more “joined-up” government.

“UKTI on the one hand is promoting UK education whilst at the same time the Home Office and UKBA is restricting access,” said Bols.

“The government’s ambition to limit net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ is in clear conflict with the wish to expand the UK’s share of the international student market,” he added.

Bols said that to achieve its ambitions the government must remove international students from UK net migration figures, and include only those who stay after study.

To be effective, Bols recommended, the Education UK unit should focus on a publicity campaign to combat growing fears that the UK is unwelcoming to international students.

He suggested that the unit help students navigate the student visa process, which may be a barrier to some students.