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How can the UK retain its appeal to international students?

Christopher Airey, Managing Director at Diversity Travel discusses maintaining international study appeal post-Brexit

Posted by Charley Rogers | June 27, 2017 | International

Following the EU Referendum, a survey of over 1,000 prospective international students by Hobsons gauged their opinion of Brexit and how it had affected their attitude towards the UK. The research found that Brexit affected nearly half of the lucrative market considering the UK as a study destination, with 83% claiming Brexit has now made them less likely to study here.

In today’s uncertain political climate, collaboration between academic institutions and trusted partners in ensuring the most attractive proposition possible for overseas students has never been more important. With issues such as immigration and visas high on the agenda and very much up for debate, academic institutions across the UK must now work hard to continue to attract a demographic that contributes around £25 billion a year to the economy, and convince students that the UK remains open for business.

The good news for UK institutions is that their track record on successfully building relationships and collaborating with their counterparts around the world remains strong. Far from being an unattainable goal, with Brexit a potential threat to our reputation and global standing, cementing global ties is something that UK universities already do, and do well.

One needs to look only to the recent growth in international branch campuses to see this in action. The University of Birmingham, for example, recently opened a campus in Dubai. Furthermore, the University of Aberdeen will open the UK’s first branch campus in South Korea later this year, focusing on teaching engineering subjects needed for the offshore oil and gas industry – a key area of investment for the region.

This kind of expansion underlines the prestige that degrees from UK institutions still carry. Despite predictions that online technology would usurp demand for traditional bricks and mortar institutions, many students are embracing the opportunity to obtain a British degree from a campus on their doorstep – and this enduring pull of high-quality UK qualifications represents an opportunity for UK-based institutions.

In today’s uncertain political climate, collaboration between academic institutions and trusted partners in ensuring the most attractive proposition possible for overseas students has never been more important.

While the importance of targeted online campaigns by institutions, for example via social media or email, cannot be underestimated, driving home the message that the UK welcomes and is actively seeking a global student population means travelling internationally and demonstrating commitment to collaboration. Developing partnerships with overseas institutions is another area in which the UK has previously excelled. University College London, for example, has established partnerships with universities in over 30 countries. With a huge 46.3% of UK research publications involved in international collaboration in 2012, the country is a world leader in this area, and has grown faster than any of its key competitors (with the exception of the USA).

In addition, five of the UK’s top 10 collaboration partners around the world are from outside of the EU. One of these is Switzerland, whose scientific research institutions are consistently recognised as being the highest quality in the world, and with whom Britain shares its highest ‘field weighted citation impact’ of 3.34, making it one of the UK’s most successful international partnerships. In total, the number of research papers produced via international collaboration with these countries is 329,142 – three in five of which are through non-EU partnerships. 

Far from bending to the suggestion that the UK will become inward-facing following its departure from the EU, universities across Britain should be taking full advantage of this opportunity to develop new, and enhance existing, relationships with institutions around the world. Academic travel must play a central role, forming research ties that will bolster the reputation of UK higher education internationally. In addition, academics will be able to enhance their own teaching by being able to offer a truly global perspective, and turning the notion that the UK is inward-looking on its head.

The scale of what is now needed from UK institutions requires a structured and easy-to-manage approach, particularly for the procurement teams who must tackle the financial and logistical aspects of such programmes.

Universities need a seamless plan of action when it comes to post-Brexit engagements, to allow academics to focus on the task at hand: to bolster our reputation globally, and show prospective international students that the UK remains open, welcoming, and one of the best and most prestigious study destinations in the world.

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