Can China rescue UK Universities?

As I prepare for our round table discussion ‘Chinese demand for UK education’ I have been surprised by the ground swell of concern about the UK Government’s apparent disinterest in supporting this sector.

Bristol University expressed deep concern

Just yesterday, the Vice Chancellor for Bristol University Professor Hugh Brady gave an interview on Sky News that clearly laid out the key issues facing the industry and his university in particular:

– 5% (1,095) of students are from Europe

– 20% of teaching staff are from Europe

– 16% (3,636) students out of 22,333 come from overseas

With UK Universities generating 2.8% of UK GDP it is surprising that such little support is being provided during this period post Brexit. We hear of Nissan getting sweetheart deals while nuclear power and rail also got public support. In Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Statement he offered support for house building, broadband and infrastructure but nothing for Universities and the education sector.

Inclusion of students in net immigration statistics

A two-tier university system is being created. The introduction of the new Tier 4 (Masters) visa was aptly named as only 4 favoured universities can benefit from it. This will ensure that those outside of the top tier will suffer a commercial disadvantage which on top of the punitive student visa cap means financial stress will occur. Regions outside of London see Universities as a critical part of the local economy and yet the logical outcome of the Government’s actions is that closure of less financially secure institutions will hit these local economies much harder than elsewhere.

Education status is not something that can be turned around fast

Unlike the latest fashionable car, electronic component or fancy office building, UK education is built on long term investment in branding and goodwill. Like the proverbial oil tanker, turning the industry around takes a long time but once it goes off course it takes a huge effort to get it back on track. Either through an absence of care or through deliberate actions, this industry is drifting in the wrong direction and needs pro-active support.

Property sector to suffer

Student accommodation has been big business for the past 5 years and Bristol is one such city that sees 10% of its population made up by students. The boom in construction and regeneration of the city centre has created a vibrant economy. However we now see rents declining and development projects stalled due to uncertainty of outlook. Indeed, latest opinions from Estates Gazette shows predictions for student numbers to decline and some build projects meeting resistance.

Conclusion

The UK education sector is not looking for favourable treatment however it does not deserve to be ignored. As to the question whether China can rescue it, we must demonstrate renewed stability to convince families that the UK is able to provide a 5-10-15 year education pathway. In addition, we do not simply want UK educational establishments to be dominated by a single ethnic group. The value of the UK is its diversity and so increasingly vocal support for India and other nations is also welcome