While identifying online education delivery and TNE as areas of good potential for the UK’s international education industry, Bew offered a global economic outlook that outlined a difficult trading environment due to the global pandemic and political factors.

Bew, who is MD of the Economist Intelligence Unit, also warned that TNE opportunities might wane in the longer-term as other countries build up homegrown capacity.

Speaking exclusively to The PIE, Bew said, “I think we’ve benefited for a long time from this narrative that Britain is internationally engaged and open.

“[Now], that narrative is going to be different and we’re going to have to market ourselves quite aggressively to overcome this reality that Britain is no longer as internationally engaged and open as it used to be.”

Responding to the point that Brexit was not on the radar of some Asian students, for example, Bew posited that Brexit was only one feature in the political landscape that would contribute to a wider perception problem.

“I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression. I don’t think it’s about Brexit,” he told The PIE. “I think Brexit is a kind of symptom of a bigger issue, which is going to affect, I think, our PR almost by osmosis.”

Giving his annual analysis of global economic trends at the British Council’s international education virtual festival, Bew predicted that there would be further political pressure in the UK from Scotland to become independent and that Northern Ireland may well also seek to cleave off from the union.

“We’ve created a narrative in the UK that degrees the only way to go”

I think it’s this broader story that Britain has. Notwithstanding the government’s strategy that it wants to be more global, the broader story that a lot of people in Britain actually don’t even want to be European, let alone global, I think that narrative will become more pronounced over time.”

Bew acknowledged that the British Coucncil could help with perception building, noting, “We’ve got some of the best institutions in the world”.

When it comes to the new era of edtech and online learning, Bew said there was still opportunity for market leaders to emerge.

“While [online learning] has exploded… quality is really patchy at the moment, I guess would be a polite way of putting it,” he said.

“So I think there is a real opportunity for institutions who are able to get it right. My observation is that actually lots and lots of institutions have not got it right at the moment.”

Investment is needed to fully realise this potential, he said, adding, “I think the big opportunity for Britain but for other countries, too, is how quickly could institutions optimise their offering for that digital environment in a way that gives them the competitive edge – delivering an education experience to take full advantage of what digital capabilities can do”.

Speaking on transnational education delivery, Bew’s view was that in China, already, the focus is to “build up an indigenous, more effective educational system” which means a different sort of TNE partnership is being prioritised around delivery onshore.

This may be a trend that is replicated in other countries in due course as their economies develop and their need for graduates increases, he suggested.

Michael Wells of Wells Advisory, a HE management consultancy, confirmed this trend, also reported previously in The PIE.

“In China, the future is no longer outbound. It’s inbound”

Dual degrees taking place in two countries are an old model for China, he told The PIE. “Our understanding is that the largest number of approvals out of the Chinese Ministry of Education has been for 4+0 [joint programs].”

“And that symbolises the tipping point that’s been reached in China, which is that the future is no longer outbound. It’s inbound.

Bew did indicate in his keynote, however, that strong interest in studying overseas, among the Chinese student population, was expected to continue – perhaps buffeted by political winds.

Speaking more broadly about the UK education offer, he also called for greater value of vocational education which would help enable a stronger, broader education system delivering relevant outcomes.

Comparing the UK to Germany, he said,  “We’ve created a narrative in the UK that degrees the only way to go

“We’ve got to change the narrative about what is a valid and positive route for young people to pursue once they come out of secondary education.

“In Germany, no one is worrying that going off and doing a vocational post-school course is a lesser activity. It’s viewed as being a really valid way of getting yourself a really good job in the German labour market.

Bew’s comments were made just ahead of the UK’s new international education strategy release and further details of its new mobility scheme, Turing, which is open to the UK’s FE and secondary school sector.

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