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Report shows UK slipping in global education stakes

23 February 2012

A new report published today warns that the UK risks losing its appeal to international students and seeing its share of the growing global education market decline.

The report by Wild ReSearch, 'Education: A Great British Export?', finds that tighter visa restrictions and the implied message that students are not welcome may already be impairing the UK's competitiveness in some of the world's most important markets. In a survey of Chinese school students and their parents, over 40% indicated that changes to the UK visa system would lead them to choose to study in rival countries such as the USA instead. Of particular concern was the imminent abolition of the Post-Study Work route, just as key competitor Australia is introducing its own PSW scheme.

One of the authors, Graham Able, former head of Dulwich College and CEO of the Alpha Plus group of independent colleges, told BBC news yesterday that "the UK has some of the best colleges and universities, but we are in danger of losing market share to the US, Canada and Australia." His co-author, Fraser White, is an expert in exporting British education abroad through his Shangai-based company DCMI, which operates a number of British-model schools throughout East Asia, and shared his concerns that Chinese students were increasingly turning away from Britain towards American schools and universities.

This new report, arriving soon after British Council research drew similar conclusions, emphasises the huge potential of the education sector to be a key driver of the UK's economic growth through exports, but also the real danger that recent successes could be easily reversed. The authors conclude that "long-term growth must not be sacrificed for the short-term political gains of government departments" and call for "a consistent approach across government to help promote and develop education from British providers".

A key recommendation of the report is for official immigration statistics to show separately the number of students entering the UK, echoing a recent call by Universities UK to exclude students from the Government's ambitious target for reducing net migration. Study UK would strongly support such a move to enhance the transparency and usefulness of these statistics while avoiding the economic and educational disaster of artificially restricting student numbers.

Study UK Association Manager Alex Proudfoot said: "the UK's long-term economic strength and global influence may very well depend on our ability and willingness to be the world's educator. Our centuries-long history of academic excellence cannot be matched by any other country, and it is an asset that we squander at our peril. Many leading figures in emerging nations are educated abroad and we should strive to ensure that British values and ideas inform their worldviews and that the UK is first in the line of potential partners for these thriving economies."


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