The year ahead: global HE

With Brexit on the horizon many will be looking at the UK’s place in the world- and UK HE will be a key part of that. We asked the UK’s top higher education leaders and wonks for their thoughts on global networks and HE’s imports and exports.

Time for a strategy?

Joy Elliott-Bowman, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Independent Higher Education UK

Activity abounds in the halls of Westminster and Whitehall as international education finally seems to be getting a much-needed spotlight. Sam Gyimah shows a keen interest in higher education exports, DIT Minister Graham Stewart now oversees a group of experts from across the education sector who are formulating plans and the Prime Minister has called on her old friends at the Migration Advisory Committee to provide advice on both international students and EU staff. The APPG for International Students is running their own inquiry “A sustainable future for international students in the UK?” which is bringing the backbenchers and champions from both Houses back into the debate. All signs point to a surge in activity from government – could this mean a new strategy for international education?

If a strategy were to be formed, it would need buy-in from the ever-reticent Home Office, as at the least, it would surely send messages that the UK was looking to boost numbers. At best buy-in could mean a new offer to international students, designed to improve their visa experience and encourage them to extend their stay to work or study more. Any strategy at this stage would send a positive message to international students that the UK is not only welcoming but is going to do something to prove it. However, universities and colleges need to be ready to pitch in as government is not likely to give themselves a long to-do list or a big budget with Brexit looming.  

Universities as pawns

Andrew Boggs, Acting Director of Strategic Planning St Mary’s Twickenham

There have been disturbing signs suggesting that universities, globally, may be in for a period of difficulty as pawns of international diplomacy and rising State authoritarianism. There is the ongoing struggle faced by the Central European University in Hungary, its future now uncertain. This summer the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in a “reverse Henry II”, recalled Saudi students admitted to Canadian universities in response to the Canadian government’s concerns over human rights violations in the Kingdom. And, the elephant in the room, unresolved conditions around the UK’s expected withdrawal from the European Union may compel countless scholars to leave UK universities.

While the monetary and economic benefits of international students and scholarship are relatively straightforward, what is less well-appreciated are the cultural and intellectual benefits of a borderless ‘world of the mind’ provided by the international family of universities. The global networks universities support help foster understanding and empathy across cultures and nations. When Governments actively disrupt or attempt to destroy the bridges universities maintain, it is not merely an extensional threat to higher education but a signal that everyone should be worried.

Commonwealth opportunities

Jonathan Woodhead, Policy Adviser at Birkbeck, University of London

As Britain’s relationship post-Brexit changes I hope this will be an opportunity rekindle the faith and goodwill shown to the UK by members of the Commonwealth. Higher education goes beyond the borders of the EU and in this time of fractured global relationships countries of like mind should not be constrained by geography. With the expectation of a trade deal with Canada, New Zealand and Australia and with the case of the latter, already at advanced stages, I hope a deal on higher education as part of this can be reached. This could include visa waivers, student loan recognition and enhanced research and knowledge exchange.

We have so much more to learn from each other and many of the traditional barriers of multi-stop journeys and cost are slowly falling. The UK will still be a springboard for Europe (we will still only be 20 miles away from our nearest neighbour) as much the UK wishes to boost its interests in the Asia Pacific region where a number of influential Commonwealth countries sit. This mutual interest is there for all parties to see and it can serve as a platform for a wider range of bilateral relationships in the future.

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