Overseas’ students are a key part of the UK economy, but Brexit is already having an effect on the numbers from the EU who want to study here. To ensure the UK remains a world leader in delivering education and research internationally we must now capitalise on developing opportunities for “borderless” study
While it isn’t very British to blow one’s trumpet, it’s absolutely true to say that the UK in general and Jisc in particular are already at the forefront of global education. But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Let me put our position into context: the UK is the world’s second largest (11% of market) and fastest growing (6% pa) provider of transnational education (TNE). In 2013, UK education exports were worth approximately £20bn to our economy, making education the fifth largest export for the UK, behind insurance services and computer and information services.
And here’s another interesting fact: Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) research found that a quarter of countries globally have a president, prime minister or monarch who was educated in the UK tertiary education system.
The government is on record saying that higher education (HE) will be a central plank in the strategy for boosting the export industry of post-Brexit Britain. Speaking at the International Higher Education Forum in London in March 2017, the under-secretary of state at the Department for International Trade, Mark Garnier, also said that, through TNE, UK universities had provided a British higher education experience to more than 300,000 people in Asia alone in 2014-15.
A survey unveiled at the same forum showed that international students have a considerable appetite for study linked to UK universities; 76% of EU respondents said they would be likely to study at an EU branch campus of a British university in a country other than their own. Of prospective international students outside the EU, 69% said they would be likely to choose to study at an EU outpost of a UK university.
A few universities have opened satellite campuses abroad, but it’s not feasible or affordable for all and some people, myself included, would argue it’s not necessary. Advancing technology means that students and researchers can work effectively with teachers or collaborators even though they may be thousands of miles apart.
Why the urgency?
International students bring huge economic benefit to the UK, along with fresh talent, ideas and skills, but the Brexit vote is already having an impact on the higher education sector.
In January 2017, UCAS 2016/17 EU application figures showed that applications to the UK were down by 7% year on year. Meanwhile, the findings of the 2016 HEPI report warned that a tougher stance towards overseas students could cost the UK as much as £2bn a year.
Students based overseas and studying for UK degrees in 2015/16 numbered more than 700,000. The UK's offshore education activity is growing at more than five times the rate of the number of international students coming to the UK to study (which has remained largely flat at around 450,000 since 2009) and, if this trend is to continue, technology will be at the centre of its success.
Against this backdrop, it’s imperative that borderless education becomes the new norm. As a minimum, all UK universities should be reviewing and building upon their existing international strategies, including all forms of inwards and outward student mobility.
It is important to remember that the success of such complex strategic partnerships is built on mutually beneficial relationships that need time to nurture. While we are committed to building bridges, we must not miss the boat when it comes to building on our success. Time is of the essence: Brexit is looming.
What are we doing in the international arena?
Historically, Jisc offerings have been delivered almost exclusively within the UK, but in direct response to the government’s strategy, and to meet the growing needs and demands of our members, we have made a strategic decision to improve the support we offer for TNE activities.
Integrated with our UK-based operations, including the Janet network and Jisc’s range of services, we have already enhanced our portfolio to enable overseas campuses and partnerships to be connected to institutions here.
UK institutions (mostly in higher, but also in further education) already have extensive international overseas partnerships, and Jisc and its international peers are now working to extend collaboration. Such partnerships, with European research and education network, GÉANT, for example, can only become more important in the lead up to, and after, Brexit.
In China, we partnered with the local research and education network (CERNET) to improve connectivity and make use of a GÉANT-funded network link between Beijing and London. In Malaysia, we used our procurement expertise and contractual relationship with Telecom Malaysia to develop connectivity solutions.
We are also working with the local research and education network (REN) to establish resilient connections. This has enabled two UK HEIs and a private school based in the EduCity knowledge hub there to improve quality of provision, resilience and cost efficiencies. In addition, we also negotiated a connection to Heriot-Watt University’s growing campus in Putrajaya, which also resulted in a significant reduction in costs.
Jisc also supports other forms of mobility, such as overseas student recruitment offices for UK universities and is in discussion with institutions in India, Africa and the Middle East that are interested in forging new links or improving existing links. Watch this space!
Improving connectivity certainly accounts for a large slice of our international work, but we have fingers in several other pies. Jisc is also facilitating provision of eduroam in overseas campuses, exploring how we could develop global mechanisms for end-to-end performance and monitoring between sites. Looking to the future, we are exploring how we can incorporate products that Jisc is developing for the UK market, with particular reference to learning analytics – a powerful tool that could support remote, global learning. Similarly, it’s possible some of our other digital tools could help overseas and local staff make the most of technology in the delivery of international education.
While we focus here on supporting TNE through reliable, high-performance connectivity and services between the UK and campuses abroad, we must also acknowledge the relationship and influence TNE has with inward and outward student mobility globally, research collaboration and international recruitment. International education has become less of a two-way street and more of a multi-laned highway, with junctions on several continents. Our partnerships allow students to study anywhere in the world, maybe over several countries, and technology has become ever more important for such seamless access to information and resources, whether that be the virtual learning environment, or Netflix!
With our sister RENs, we are already enabling global research on subjects including particle physics, astronomy and climate change and, in the future, we could be supporting genomics research. Jisc recently hosted executives from both AARNet (Australia) and Internet2 (USA) to discuss collaboration and partnership opportunities, as well as delegations from Japan, Singapore and India. We’ve also talked to Malaysia and Ethiopia about federated access, and been involved in two proposals for the Department for International Development’s Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) bid, working with Sudan and Africa respectively.
So, we are already at the forefront of a wealth of international work and now is the time for us to be focused, strategic and to deliver cost-effective international services – and that's why we’re developing our international strategy.
We are a world leader and need to stay ahead of the game.