London should have own strategy for attracting international students, says new report

London should have own strategy for attracting international students, says new report

London should have its own international education strategy for maximising its appeal for overseas students, backed by national government and City Hall and with a dedicated London champion, according to a new report.

London Higher, the organisation representing over 40 universities in the capital, argues that there is “a clear case” that a specific London approach to “increasing London’s attractiveness to international education markets” would be in line with both existing government higher education policy and what it calls the new government’s “national plan for growth”.

The document’s co-authors, London Higher chief executive Diana Beech and programmes, communications and research officer Emily Dixon, stress the need for a “collaborative effort” to enhance the capital’s already “unrivalled” appeal for international students and researchers by addressing some significant challenges. They place “personal safety concerns, global security threats, affordability and environmental concerns” at the top of their list.

A report for the government published last year said more than 70,000 first year students had been enrolled in London’s array of higher education institutions in 2018/19, more than one quarter of the UK total. The government’s international education strategy, produced in 2019 and updated last year, claims the country’s post-Brexit “new independent trade policy” will “deliver more opportunities for education providers” backed by £100 million, and “should be seen as the embodiment of our Global Britain ambitions”.

London Higher’s case for a distinct London strategy emphasises both the variety of the city’s universities and higher education colleges – ranging from large, multi-faculty institutions to specialist research institutes and drama schools – and London’s role as “an introduction and an open doorway for international students and researchers wanting to engage with British higher education”.

It contests the view that students from other countries takes places away from British people, pointing out that international students’ fees make a major contribution to funding courses and research that might otherwise not be afforded. It has been estimated that a single year’s cohort of international students in London has a net economic impact of £88 million.

Beech and Dixon say that despite London being a generally safe city, the impact of recent murders of women, terror attacks and violent offending using knives may weaken London’s attraction for prospective students, for whom personal safety and a sense of being welcome are important considerations.

The expense of studying in London can be another deterrent. “If students believe that London is a fun, vibrant global city with good opportunities but do not believe they can afford to live there, this poses a significant problem for London’s higher education institutions,” the report says. Accommodation costs are highlighted as a particular issue, along with fees.

The report asks London Mayor Sadiq Khan to take steps to ensure the capital’s research and development sector is securely protected, to create “a London-wide kitemark for international education pathway providers” to give students reassurance, to help ensure purpose-built student accommodation remains affordable, and to provide City Hall resources for promoting both the capital’s opportunities for students from around the world and the value their presence has for Londoners and their city.

The government is asked to establish the position of International Education Champion for London to support the national champion already in place, to pilot “a new, single pathway student visa” and to provide better guidance and advice to make it easier for international students to progress to post-graduate study.

The report urges London’s universities and higher education colleges themselves to take a range of steps to maximise overseas student take-up, including the use of alumni networks, “consideration of a more nuanced fee structure or bursary system” to draw students from developing countries, and a “willingness to engage” with anxieties about safety, inclusiveness and the environment through London Higher’s networks.

“This International Strategy for London is only the start of the conversation about how the city’s higher education sector can remain at the heart of the government’s plan for growth in the international education arena,” the document concludes.

Read the International Education Strategy for London document in full HERE. Image from document cover.

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