As the government seeks to promote sustainable economic recovery, measures are being taken to support export growth in a number of key sectors, specifically aerospace, automotive, agriculture, and construction. A less obvious export market is education, yet it’s one that policy makers have identified as a source of significant growth and real value.
In a recent press release, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts, said, “There are few sectors of the UK economy with the capacity to grow and generate export earnings as impressive as education. Our universities, colleges, awarding organisations and schools are recognised globally for their excellence. However, there is more that we can do to take advantage of this powerful reputation, and to seize the opportunities to stay ahead in the global race.”
A world leader in education
It’s clear that the UK is uniquely positioned in this sector, having many world-leading brands, an outstanding international reputation for providing high-quality services, and an unrivalled history of teaching students from every corner of the globe. So it’s a logical step for government to seek to help the education sector exploit their strong position within the £3 trillion global education marketplace.
The UK’s share of this market is already significant – it grew from £14 billion in 2008/2009 to £17.5 billion in 2011, and government now seeks to grow this by another £3 billion. To this aim, the International Education Strategy sets out plans to help UK schools, colleges, universities and education businesses attract an additional 90,000 overseas students by 2018. The strategy also seeks to strengthen partnerships with education authorities in other countries, and to encourage more UK students to spend time studying overseas.
A broad range of benefits
There are diverse benefits to such a strategy, not only revenue based. As Business Secretary Vince Cable says, “Overseas students make a huge contribution to Britain. They boost our economy and enhance our cultural life. Thanks to our world-class universities, our network of UK alumni who are now in positions of influence around the world is impressive, opening doors that would not otherwise be possible.”
The government has taken a variety of steps to support this initiative, including: the appointment of Sir Eric Thomas as the new UK Education Champion; the doubling of the Department for International Development’s investment in higher education partnerships; and expanding the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Chevening scholarships programme, which encourages top students from around the world to study in the UK
Delivering the government’s objectives
Each of these measures will no doubt have a positive impact on delivering the government’s stated objectives. Yet for the full potential of the exercise to be realised, the initiative will require high-calibre education leaders, executives and senior managers, and demand for such people is already at critical levels, with many education organisations struggling to find high quality candidates with the required skills and experience to perform in senior roles. Attracting and retaining top talent is therefore a major challenge for almost all organisations in the education sector.
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