The conference, held on October 12, brought together experts, academics, and policy professionals to tackle the “big issues” in the independent higher education sector.
“Increasingly, you see growth in education technology”
Speaking during a session about the UK’s educational export potential, delegates were reminded of the government’s goal to increase the number of international students in the UK to 600,000 and to increase exports to £35bn.
“So we’re already at about £23.3bn,” said Rupert Daniels, director, creative, lifestyle and learning, at the Department for International Trade.
“There’s a vast array of different sectors across the whole of the international education sector represented in that £23.3bn.
“By far and away the biggest sector is students coming to spend their time here in higher education… But increasingly, you see growth in education technology.”
Daniels said that for education the pandemic has helped to accelerate digital transition.
“So I know, having worked for eight years at Cambridge trying to convince some schools, some colleges, some teachers over the years all over the world to transition to digital was quite frankly, a massive struggle.
“When that was not a choice anymore and actually, teachers across the world, with 95% of schools and colleges and universities completely shutting down, had to transition to a fully online model.”
This marked the “inflexion point” that everybody had been looking for and predicting, he posited.
“Now, because of what’s happened, this is the year that leads to growth. So that creates a massive opportunity for us all in this room.
“It’s something that the government is keen that we work very closely together with the industry and through our Strategic Advisory Group.”
“The challenge for us is to look through the noise and say, “Okay, where are the genuine opportunities for growth?””
“I guess what we’re seeing when we look across the entire education landscape, there’s a lot of noise.
“We’re seeing an enormous investment into edtech… And we’re seeing thousands of new start-ups, stackable degrees, micro qualifications, micro learning. All kinds of opportunities.
“And I guess the challenge for us is to try and look through the noise and say, “Okay, where are the genuine opportunities for growth?””
Lefevre argued that online degrees are one very good opportunity for growth from a university perspective.
He said that previously in many of the UK’s export markets, online education didn’t have the same currency as face to face education, but that this is changing.
“We’ve seen during the pandemic countries like Malaysia, India and China are accrediting online education. So the qualification we can offer can have weight.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people too, both in the UK and now international markets, who now believe that education can be studied online effectively and they’re probably more open to paying for online education.
“I think the third thing is that as a sector, we now have a great capability in online learning. So I think all these things will collide.”
He predicted there will be improved accreditation frameworks for online learning in the countries that the UK is targeting.
“We’ll see increased demand from students, combined with increased capability. So I think it’s a fairly safe bet that the online degree market will grow,” he added.