Global growth spurt for UK education

Britain’s International Education Strategy is delivering tangible results, Education attachés learned at the Embassy Education Conference

The expansion of British education worldwide has gathered pace since the introduction of the UK’s International Education Strategy (IES) in 2019, despite global lockdowns brought about the Covid-19 pandemic, UK’s International Education Champion Professor Sir Steve Smith told diplomats at the first live Embassy Education Conference in three years.

Sir Steve’s role was created in 2020 as a key recommendation of the IES, to work with international partners to lower the barriers and widen access to British education. To date the IES has delivered impressive results, notably in the expansion of trans-national education (TNE), up by 12.8% in the past year, meaning Britain now offers higher education to half a million students in 225 countries and schooling to 53,000 children overseas. The UK continues to lead Europe in the Ed Tech sector, building on the “huge shift” in digital learning during the pandemic, said Sir Steve. Skills training was another growth area where 4.9 million vocational skills qualifications were awarded around the world, he added.

The target of attracting more than 600,000 international students to the UK was achieved a decade early, proof that the UK Government was “committed to ensuring that the UK remains open and welcoming and an attractive place to study or work with a broad range of immigration routes,” he said, adding: “International students at UK campuses enrich the cultural life of the UK, inject crucial dynamism and expertise into the [British] economy, as well as helping to strengthen ties with nations around the world.”

Raising ambitions
In an upbeat keynote address, Lord Bilimoria, President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs and co-Chair of the APPG for International Students (APPG-IS), explained to education attachés why Britain “punched above its weight” in international education, with four UK universities in the top 10 worldwide.

Given the UK’s excellence in education, he called for a more ambitious target of one million international students, drawn from a diverse range of countries. He added that India, in particular, had huge potential as an international education partner.

Reinstating the Graduate Route, which allows international students to work in the UK upon completion of their degree, had been a long-term campaign of both UKCISA and the APPG-IS and had been a key factor in attracting international students to the UK, he said.

He welcomed the introduction of the Turing Scheme, which supports students from the UK to study abroad, but said the scheme needed to evolve into a “two-way street” offering opportunities for international students to study in the UK.

However he warned that recent comments by Home Secretary Suella Braverman about capping or cutting international students to reduce net migration were “not helpful” adding that the re-introduction of a “hostile environment” for international students could risk losing the hard-won gains made over the past two years.

Chief Scientific Adviser at the FCDO Prof Charlotte Watts outlines the UK’s international Science and Tech priorities on a panel discussion with Ian Wiggins, International Director of the Royal Society, Frazer MacDonald and Laura Hamlyn of BEIS and Prof Graeme Reid of UCL


Predictable policy
The incoming Director of Universities UK International (UUKi) Jamie Arrowsmith said International Education Strategy had had a positive impact on the higher education sector since its introduction. However he said the sector faced headwinds brought about by uncertainty over Government policy, notably over the UK’s association with Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation.

Echoing Lord Bilimoria’s comments, he said the international students contributed to the UK economy – to the tune of almost £26 billion a year – and that international students were important to the sustainability of many post-graduate level courses at UK universities.

He added that the sector was key to the UK’s soft power, a topical example of which was the UK-Ukraine Twinning Initiative, where UUKi was helping to facilitate partnerships between UK universities and Ukrainian partner institutions affected by the Russian war in Ukraine to support them in a range of areas.

Kevin Van Cauter of the British Council gives an overview of the institutional and regulatory changes taking place in UK higher education


Policy discussions
Breakout sessions at the Embassy Education Conference allowed deeper discussion on key policy areas in international education and research, including the future of science and research collaboration; student migration routes; international skills training for economies in transition; the changing UK institutional and regulatory framework; trans-national education and international student mobility; government and Commonwealth scholarships; international student welfare and international graduate employability.

The Conference also offered Education attachés the opportunity to connect with  a range of education service providers under one roof.


Baroness Uddin presents Elsa Wilkin-Armbrister of the St Kitts and Nevis High Commission with the Education Attaché of the Year Award for 2022


Education Attaché of the Year
The Conference closed with the presentation of the Education Attaché of the Year, presented by Baroness Uddin, Vice Chair of the APPG-IS. The award was presented to Elsa Wilkin-Armbrister of the High Commission of St Kitts and Nevis who was recognised for her work to support the wellbeing of St Kitts and Nevis international students and connect them to opportunities in the UK.

Using her own experience as an international student, Elsa was instrumental in the revival of St. Kitts and Nevis Young Professionals in United Kingdom (SKNYP), an organisation aimed at connecting students and young professionals. During the pandemic, Elsa arranged repatriation flights for students and worked closely with SKNYP to offer a lifeline to students in lockdown through a ‘covid buddy’ scheme where a young professional was paired with a student to keep lines of communication open and to provide vital financial and mental health support to students. The pairing of students and professionals also offered the opportunity for mentorship.

In addition, Elsa was recognised for her efforts to include international students in a number of significant events – from Commonwealth Day celebrations to visits to Parliament on the International Students Day – and for her work as Vice President of the London Education and Research Network, the professional association of education attachés in the UK.

Other finalists for the award were: Hamed Oussama Salhi (Algeria), Assoc Prof Dr Shafie Mohamed Zabri (Malaysia), Laura van Voorst Vader (The Netherlands), Fahad Al-Kuwari (Qatar), Alisa Lialina (Ukraine) and Tran Huong Ly (Vietnam).

Main photo: Lord Bilimoria addresses the Embassy Education Conference