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

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager - Events, Digital, Offline

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager (Events, Digit...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: Liz Kendall speaks to the Westminster press pack – kamikaze or courage?

John Rentoul
Ukraine’s hope of a future with the West has ended with death and annexation in the east  

Ukraine’s tragedy casts a pall over the EU summit

Mary Dejevsky
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable