Overseas students targeted in new export strategy

The government has said it is “realistic” for UK international student numbers to grow up to 20 per cent over five years under current visa rules

The estimate is part of the coalition’s new industrial strategy for international education, of which overseas students at universities are a key part.

International Education – Global Growth and Prosperity, which was launched today, estimates that international students contributed £6.3 billion in living expenses and £3.9 billion in tuition fees to the UK economy in 2011-12, the lion’s share of the £17.5 billion that education is thought to contribute overall.

An increase of 20 per cent would mean an extra 90,000 international students over the next half decade, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

However, the coalition has also pledged to bring net migration down to the “tens of thousands” by the next general election in 2015. In the year to September 2012, the figure stood at 153,000.

Asked whether an increase in student immigration could have an impact on the net migration target, David Willetts, the universities and science minister stressed that there were “no plans” for a cap on the number of legitimate international students who could come to the UK.

The message that Britain was open to international students went “right up to the prime minister”, he told an event to launch the strategy in London this morning.

For the rise in international students to occur, “we must show that the UK values international students, will provide a warm welcome and support while they are here and will keep in touch after they go home”, the strategy says.

It also set out a number of other plans, including:

- a cross-government Responding to International Student Crises committee to help those who have difficulty accessing money or renewing visas because of disasters in their home countries, for example the current civil war in Syria.

- a new Education UK Unit to support large-scale commercial partnerships abroad, which aims to win contracts worth at least £1 billion by 2015 and £3 billion by 2020.

- the development of the UK’s FutureLearn platform for massive open online course (Moocs). British universities involved in Moocs “need to be flexible, entrepreneurial and willing to form partnerships, which may cross old public-private boundaries”, the strategy stresses.

- an “enhanced website” and expanded recruitment service will be rolled out to advertise UK universities abroad. The “GREAT Britain” advertising push will expand its campaign promoting education into rapidly growing economies such as India, China, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

- the Department for International Development will double its investment in development partnerships for education

- the Chevening scholarship programme, which attracts future politicians and “high fliers” to study in the UK, will be expanded.

- Eric Thomas, who is currently president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, is to become the new “UK Education Champion”.


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