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UK International Education Strategy: Casting its nets to attract foreign students

The United Kingdom is traditionally well represented among various university rankings. With an estimated education export value of GBP 17.5 billion in 2011, education is big business in the UK. One of the main reasons for this British success story is undoubtedly the reputation and appeal of its universities, which rank the UK the second most popular destination for international higher education students, attracting 13 % of the global total in 2011 according to the latest edition of the OECD's Education at a Glance report. Consequently, the British government seeks to maintain the UK’s outstanding role in the higher education arena and introduced its new International Education Strategy on 29 July 2013.

The International Education Strategy aims at maintaining and improving the UK’s remarkable position in the higher education sector by:

  • increasing the number of international students by 15-20 % (i.e. 90 000) over the next five years through enhanced partnerships with priority countries, government scholarships, improved communication strategies and stronger cooperation with the Chevening scholarship programme alumni;
  • fostering transnational education through support to universities, colleges, English language teaching providers, independent schools and private education companies overseas;
  • investing in education technology such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs);
  • adapting and making efficient use of the UK’s institutional set-up to the objectives of the International Education Strategy through the establishment of a new International Education Council.

Attracting 90 000 additional foreign students over the next five years is an ambitious goal – in particular considering the report of the UK Office for National Statistics concerning the decrease of international students from 246 000 in 2011 to 190 000 in 2012. Whether this can be ascribed to tightening visa rules, increasing tuition fees or the rise of competitive education hubs in Asia or Latin America is unclear. The question that remains now is to which extent the increase in international students is to be achieved through net immigration into the UK, and to which extent through transnational education and UK campuses abroad?

GOV.UK - International Education Strategy

Office for National Statistics - Migration Statistics Quarterly Report