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International Perspectives
Booming market in international education

The number of overseas students wanting to attend UK universities could triple to more than 870,000 by 2020, according to two reports published in April

The global demand for higher education places for students seeking to study outside their own country continues to grow. It is now forecast to reach 5.8 million overall by 2020, and the UK could benefit by over 800,000 higher education students, adding some £13 billion each year to the economy.

Vision 2020: Forecasting International Student Mobility - A UK Perspective, a research report produced by the British Council, Universities UK and IDP Education Australia, shows that:

  • The UK has the second largest global market share, behind the USA, in this vital and knowledge-intensive industry
  • The number of international students seeking higher education places in the main English speaking countries is forecast to increase from about 1 million in 2003, to 1.5 million in 2010 and then to 2.6 million by 2020
  • By 2010 there will be more international postgraduate than undergraduate students studying in the UK, contributing directly to the UK's knowledge economy
  • There are currently over 35,000 international students undertaking research in UK universities, making a major contribution to the high quality of the UK's research output. This number could more than double by 2020
  • If the UK improves its investment strategies, it could experience an annual growth rate in demand of 8 per cent across the sector. However, should investment in this increasingly competitive industry decline, the UK could lose significant market share and the demand for UK higher education, in the worst case scenario, could reduce by over 30 per cent
  • Global competition is growing fast. Singapore, Malaysia and India are all expanding their international education activities, while France, Germany and the Netherlands (amongst other European nations) are offering English-language postgraduate programmes

The second report, Global Value of UK Education and Training Exports, demonstrates for the first time the totality of UK activity as well as providing a straightforward methodology for calculating the value to the UK economy of international education and training. It shows that:

  • Overall, the UK economy benefits by almost £11 billion directly and about a further £12 billion indirectly per annum from educational related exports
  • Over 500,000 international students are estimated to come to the UK each year to study English. The total value of this sector is £1.3 billion pa to the UK
  • Each international student attending a UK university contributes on average nearly £16,000 pa to the UK
  • International students enrolled on private sector training programmes generate over £1.8 billion pa for the UK
  • The FE sector attracts nearly 100,000 international students each year
  • Education publishing related exports generate nearly £1 billion pa for the UK
  • Educational equipment accounts for over half a billion worth of exports to the UK economy - up by 15 per cent on previous studies.

These figures place education in the same league as exports of oil or financial services, which earned the UK economy £14.3 billion and £13.6 billion respectively in 2002. Exports of ships and aircraft bring in a mere £6.5 billion by comparison, and computer services even less at £2.6 billion.

"We have all worked hard to maintain the UK's position as a market leader in the recruitment of overseas students," says David Green, Director General of the British Council. "But we're not complacent. The UK's position in the market and the added value to the economy is at risk if we do not continue to invest. This is essential to underpin the gains already made, to combat the increasing competition from countries such as the US, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, and to ensure high quality in the provision of education."

His words are supported by Professor Ivor Crewe, President of Universities UK. "International students make a significant investment and place their trust in us when they decide to come to the UK for their higher education," he says. "We recognise the critical need to maintain and build on the reputation for quality higher education that is the key factor in the UK's success in educating citizens of other countries.

"We also welcome the findings of the research into the global value of education and training exports to the UK. It provides further evidence of the many ways in which the UK education sector contributes to the UK economy. In particular it shows that public investment in higher education is significantly outweighed by the financial return to the economy provided by UK higher education."

Vision 2020 also shows that:

  • The quality of UK education and the enhanced employability associated with a UK qualification are the main factors that attract international students to the UK
  • Ensuring that international students have a high quality experience of the UK is the vital selling point for the UK
  • The UK is currently the global leader in delivering accredited higher education to international students in their own countries through distance learning and related arrangements.
  • Asia (particularly Indian and China) is expected to become the leading global source region for international students by 2010, making up 76 per cent of the global demand for the five major English-speaking countries
  • In the UK, business studies continues to be the subject area in greatest demand, followed by arts and humanities, computing science and engineering and technology.

There are many issues here for UK career advisers to consider. Putting to one side the moral question of whether it is right for one of the wealthiest nations in the world to prop up its economy by charging the full market rate to citizens of developing countries seeking to improve their education - an argument long since lost - we should be aware that growth in international student numbers can mean fewer university places for UK students. In a different sphere, we may be called upon to advise on the acceptability of non-UK qualifications for university entry or offer guidance on how to adapt to life in a new country.

Stop Press! Careers team appointed to research needs of international students

As we go to press, we hear that a research team from the University of Central England and Sheffield Hallam University has been appointed to establish how careers advisory services can enhance their support for international students.

The Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) has awarded the funding to the team, led by Professor Lee Harvey, director of the Centre for Research and Evaluation at Sheffield Hallam University, as part of its drive to support and enhance services offered in the UK. The findings of the research project, due to report in spring 2005, will deliver an understanding of the contribution of careers advisory services to international studentship and students' expectations of the services.

"With the numbers of international students in the UK set to rise steadily over the next decade," says HECSU research manager Jane Artess, "it is vital that we understand their requirements of careers advisory services. Professor Harvey has a proven track record for research in this field, so I am confident that the findings will offer us valuable insight."





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