Together with intermediate inputs from other industries, universities in England contribute around £95 billion to the economy, the UUK-commissioned, Frontier Economics research found.
Although recent analysis indicated that international students in the UK contribute £28.8bn annually to the economy, UUK suggested more needs to be done to “capitalise on the strength” of the country’s world-class universities.
“Targeted investment, alongside the implementation of the government’s ambitious plans for growth in higher education exports and global research collaboration, will help the UK’s universities to provide a major boost to local economies, inward investment and national competitiveness,” the new report contended.
Maintaining the UK’s global research and development superpower position will require the government to recommit to spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development, as well as the associated commitment to £22bn in public investment in research and development by 2024/25.
“Strategic” international collaborations will enhance the quality, impact and global reputation of R&D in the UK.
Suggested measures include: additional and sustainable funding for the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe; support for strategic bilateral relationships through an enhanced Fund for International Collaboration and enhanced fellowship funding; and stable funding that enables excellent research with diverse partners to address global challenges.
But the report also makes recommendations specifically for the wider international education sector.
To achieve the UK’s “global ambitions”, government must deliver on the commitments in the International Education Strategy, including significantly increasing investment in Study UK, and draw on the expertise and experience of universities to enhance the quality and effectiveness of promotional efforts.
Investment in flagship scholarship schemes, including non-Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Official Development Assistance funds, should increase and funding should be made accessible to excellent students from “all key markets”.
Government should also develop alternative finance models for international students with the sector, while learning from international best practice to “leverage international scholarship funding from overseas funding agencies through targeted investment of trade and ODA funding”.
“We must draw on the networks, skills and expertise of international graduates”
“Invest in pilot projects that support UK businesses to increase exports to key markets,” the paper also told government. “We must draw on the networks, skills and expertise of international graduates under the auspices of a new Graduate Export Placement Scheme.”
UKCISA called for a placement scheme to “enable international students to gain valuable work experience and support companies to grow their exports” in a 2020 report.
Additional funding should be ringfenced to support higher education systems in low- and middle-income countries, drawing on lessons from the FCDO’s £45 million Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform program, aiming to support higher education transformation in focus countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the paper continued.
A “long-term strategic approach” to market development in key English language education markets, together with the British Council – and at the same time supporting the recovery of the UK-based English language teaching sector – should be developed.
The paper also urged government to continue to create international opportunities for UK students.
“A multi-year funding scheme is imperative for the Turing scheme to be a lasting success, particularly in widening access to these opportunities for students from disadvantaged groups, and to get as many students using the funding as possible,” it read.
“A stable, multi-year settlement would ensure that universities across the whole UK can develop long-term partnerships that deliver benefits to students and serve the strategic interests of institutions and the UK’s international higher education ambitions.”
As the UK sees a drop off in Erasmus+ funding, the UK government should fill the gap to ensure “the volume and quality of mobility opportunities can be sustained and, in the coming years, grow as new relationships are developed”.
“Now is the time for government to capitalise on the strength of our world-class universities”
International higher education has been among the UK’s largest and fastest growing service export sectors, the report suggested.
“Now is the time for government to capitalise on the strength of our world-class universities, working with us to ensure universities have the right funding environment to drive economic growth, create new jobs and improve opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds,” Steve West, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol, added.