Whatever happened to the global race in education?

Tomorrow's graduates will compete against an ever growing number of exceptionally qualified overseas students. Better policy can help prepare them for that

Fact File
  • 26% Fall in overseas student visas granted last year
Related Topics

As Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, warned, tough public rhetoric is deterring foreign students from applying to UK universities. The most recent statistics on student visas showed a 26% fall from the previous year. Continuing the insular trend in higher education, British students are becoming less inclined to study non-European modern languages. Applications for these fell more than a fifth between 2011 and 2012.

Both of these changes matter. The most obvious benefit of foreign students is that they pay more – and up front. The more overseas students there are, the more they can subsidise bursaries for British students and fund universities’ research. Labour’s opposition to the continued inclusion of international students in the coalition's net migration targets recognises this reality.

No less significant are the subtler benefits of welcoming foreign students. Their presence provides one of the most effective ways for British students to engage with the world. Foreign students inject money into the economy and forge lasting cultural ties. They also provide a way to combat Britain’s skills shortages, such as an estimated dearth of 217,000 engineers by 2017. Maintaining Britain’s reputation for housing the world’s best universities also gives the country global prestige. Policies that clamp down on immigrants by encouraging talented foreign students to study in America, China, Germany and elsewhere amount to damaging short-term populism.

Such thinking has been compounded by the government’s attitude towards the study of non-European modern languages. These are too often treated as quaint pursuits – interesting, perhaps, but ultimately about as relevant to the global race as archaeology. The reality is that they include Arabic and Chinese, languages that will underpin the 21 Century global economy.

Yet the government seems to retain a dangerous Anglocentricism where languages are concerned. Of the 30 subject group blocks identified by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, ‘Non-European Languages and related’ are the least popular among students, with fewer than 7,000 people having applied to study them this year. Most worrying of all, applications to study these fell 21.5% from 2011 figures – the greatest drop of any of the 30 subject groups.

The government’s implementation of tuition fee rises recommended in the Browne Review can politely be described as controversial. But in some respects they took too little notice of it. The Browne Review mentioned the importance of “additional and targeted investment by the public” for “strategically important language courses”. However this has not been translated into ensuring that the university uptake of languages such as Chinese and Arabic matches Britain’s needs. Creative policies are required – for instance, £500 a year could be shaved off annual tuition fees for these courses, contingent upon students obtaining at least a 2.1.

Such a measure may seem a luxury at a time when benefits are being cut. The reality is that, as with encouraging the best foreign students to study here, it would be an investment in Britain’s ability to compete in the global race. Populism may be superficially attractive. It cannot be allowed to trumpet long-term vision.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Service Delivery and Support Manager

£55000 - £75000 per annum + excellent benefits: Harrington Starr: Service Deli...

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Should America pay Isis ransom money to free hostages like James Foley?

Kim Sengupta

The Malky Mackay allegations raise the spectre of Britain's casual racism

Chris Maume
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home