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Higher Education - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:04 pm on 19th July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Greenfield Baroness Greenfield Crossbench 1:04 pm, 19th July 2018

I add my welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester and congratulate him on his insightful speech. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on initiating this important debate.

My personal experience of the higher education sector has been as a tutor and lecturer in medicine at Oxford University and also—until 2013—as Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, which has flourishing overseas campuses.

Many universities now have senior posts dedicated to globalisation and their international relationships, and I shall take this activity as defining “the export of higher education”. Initially, this role was largely about ensuring that international students settled in well to the host institution and country, but over time it has expanded to include targeted recruitment abroad, with academics and marketing staff travelling overseas to advertise to and interview prospective students, and the development of courses specifically designed for students from abroad to study in their home country, sometimes led by online provision, but often through the development of satellite campuses.

The value of what the UK has to offer is considerable. The biggest international league table for assessing that is the Times Higher Education world university rankings, which lists the top 1,000 universities, representing no more than 5% of the 20,000 higher education institutes internationally. Ranking positions are derived from 13 different performance indicators, and the list is subject to external auditing. Overall, European institutions occupy half of the top 200 places, with the Netherlands, Germany and the UK being the most represented countries. The UK has 12 universities in the top 100 and three in the top 10—Imperial, Oxford and Cambridge—with the latter two in the top two positions.

Comparisons of data from the UK with those from the US, which holds the most places in the top 100, along with Germany and the Netherlands, indicate that the UK differs from its nearest European competitor—Germany, with 10 universities in the top 100—in having significantly fewer full-time students and a significantly lower staff to student ratio. UK universities do not, however, differ from their US counterparts in terms of the number of full-time students, the staff to student ratio, the percentage of international students or the percentage of females.

The UK universities, however, have a significantly greater so-called international outlook than the US universities, and compared with Germany and the Netherlands. International outlook is evaluated by how much a university is concerned with the development of a multicultural community of students and staff, the preparation of its students for global political and social environments, and the development of international alliances in research, education and business. It appears, then, that the UK higher education system is well positioned and well primed to be an international export; it is already world-leading, with a global outlook.

Why should the UK export its higher education? First, data from 2017 show that 30% of all academics in the UK are already international. This situation, however, is not yet being optimised in terms of developing a global, context-driven and internationalised curriculum. Secondly, in 2015 the Quality Assurance Agency suggested that the large numbers of international students studying at UK universities highlighted a great opportunity for them to be involved in shaping global and intercultural teaching and learning through co-construction of the curriculum.

Thirdly, many developing countries are experiencing a rapid growth in the number of students seeking higher education, and there is a strong appetite for qualifications from English-language, western institutions. American, Australian, British and Canadian universities are often seen as providing more modern and practical educations than those of local institutions, thus improving graduates’ prospects of finding well-paid jobs. Despite this, the cost of studying abroad may be prohibitive for some, while the cost of studying at a satellite campus is manageable. The US, in particular, has found that since 9/11 students from certain Middle Eastern countries have felt less safe in the States but are happy to study at satellite campuses. The same may be true of the UK since 7/7 and in the light of the Brexit referendum.

The fourth reason for exporting UK higher education is the potential collateral benefit to UK home students from international collaborations through, for example, study abroad programmes, where they may be hosted at their own satellite campuses, thus removing any concerns about credit transfer or quality of educational provision. Research has shown that governments and universities hold the view that students who study on internationalised campuses demonstrate greater knowledge of international events, perspectives and methods. It has been further observed that these students are viewed as better prepared to contribute positively to local, regional, national and international progress because they develop the skills deemed necessary for a modern workforce and global conditions, such as second-language acquisition, cultural awareness, international contacts and adaptation skills. Additionally, this is in line with the Europe 2020 priority of inclusive growth and the headline statistic of aiming to achieve 20% of graduates having spent a study or training period abroad by 2020.

Fifthly, a further collateral benefit comes in the form of research collaboration and the provision of a steady supply of students from abroad joining the university as postgraduate students. At present in the UK, international students make up 60% of those studying at postgraduate level. However, if this is their first experience of studying in UK-style institutions or in English, they can face considerable challenges. In contrast, if they have studied at satellite campuses they may be better placed to settle into their UK university campus at postgraduate level.

President Clinton once remarked that the nations of the world had progressed from isolation to interaction—albeit positive or negative—and were finally on track for integration. Higher education is an increasingly globally integrated activity. The UK needs to ensure that it plays a central part in maximising all the opportunities it will indubitably bring for everyone.