Global centre of gravity shifts east

Vince Cable has written to UK business leaders urging support to increase student mobility to China in a new British Council move

The UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable MP was referring to the British Council’s Generation UK initiative. 

Generation UK is the British Council’s flagship outward mobility programme, and encourages students to consider China as a destination for study or work by promoting the huge range of academic and professional opportunities available. 

Currently, around 5,400 UK students studied in China last year. This number has grown by almost 65% since 2010, but Generation UK aims to see 80,000 UK students participate in academic study or work experience programmes in China by 2020.

In order to compete in today’s global market, young people increasingly need international experience. In particular, the UK government believes it is critical that more students have opportunities to gain greater exposure to, and understanding of China, due to the growing trend of inward investment from China and with the increase in Chinese tourists coming to the UK.

In his letter, the Secretary of State urged business leaders to support student mobility to China, saying: ‘The global centre of gravity is shifting eastwards to major economic powerhouses like China. But while China sends around 100,000 students each year to the UK, we send little more than 5,000 in the opposite direction – and that’s two thirds more than we sent in 2010. 

“By contrast, France sends over 8,000 students to China annually. We must raise our game. 

“New independent research shows that a lack of language skills in the UK is costing our economy about £48 billion. The shortage of Mandarin speakers is part of the problem. I don’t want young British people to get left behind.”

Generation UK also provides opportunities for UK young people to engage with China through academic scholarships and funding support for internships. This summer alone, it is anticipated that there will be over 200 places for internship and academic study in China directly through Generation UK. 

Carma Elliot, Director of the British Council China, said: “Generation UK creates incredible opportunities and access for young people in the UK to experience life in China’s rapidly growing economy. 

“By coming to China to work or study, UK students develop a global mind-set and gain international experience and skills that will enable them to thrive in a globally competitive labour market.”


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