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UK universities urged to seek new global opportunities

International_StudentsUK universities and education policy-makers should prepare for a global slowdown in the market for international students in the coming decade, the British Council has warned.

In response, they should be ready to widen their focus to new opportunities in international research collaboration and look to become more connected, forming global communities and educating more overseas students in their home countries, a recent report suggests.

A British Council study of macro-economic and demographic trends shows that Britain can expect to attract a further 30,000 overseas students in the next ten years – increasing its international intake by more than its greatest competitor, the United States.

However, this represents a significantly smaller rate of growth than UK universities have enjoyed over the past decade, at a time when most are aiming to increase international enrolments to compensate for cuts in Government funding. From 2002/03 to 2010/11 the number of international students coming to study in the UK rose by 180,000.

A report on the study’s findings, The Shape of Things to Come, identifies emerging markets and the nature of the opportunities they present to UK higher education, business and industry.

Leaders in the field of global education speaking at an event to launch the report, said that the global education market is shifting away from the “western concept” of recruiting students from countries with less established higher education systems. A new emphasis on mutually beneficial collaboration in teaching and research, the setting up of overseas campuses, and joint ventures to create new institutions on foreign soil are broadening the concept of internationalisation and presenting new market opportunities, they said.

But UK universities will only be in a position to benefit from these changes if they are ready to quickly re-balance their international activities, and if they are backed by supportive Government policies and research funding mechanisms. The report says about a third of all academic research produced globally is already carried out through international collaboration – and this is expected to increase. The study found that around 80% of a country’s research impact is directly related to the level of international collaboration. Research produced through international collaboration had a significantly higher citation rate, a proxy for quality.

Countries expected to provide the best opportunities for research collaboration with the UK are the US, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Australia. Multinational companies will increasingly be looking for international research partners, with companies in the US, Europe, India and Latin America presenting the best prospects, says the report.

Dr Janet Ilieva, the British Council’s senior advisor on education research and a co-author of the report, said the increase in international research collaboration is driven by academics across the world becoming more connected and forming global communities.

“This indicates that internationalisation of higher education appears to be moving into a new stage, where international students will continue to play an important role, but research and joint delivery of education independently or with overseas partners will have growing prominence,” she said.

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