Developing Solutions Scholarship Programme celebrates 10 year anniversary

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne spoke at the 10th Anniversary of the programme at the University of Nottingham, which supports students from the developing countries to study in the UK.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Jeremy Browne

I am delighted to be invited to speak to you today in celebration of the Developing Solutions Scholarship Programme.

It is a privilege to be standing before you, and it was a privilege to study here as a student twenty years ago. I can still vividly remember coming here as a teenager for an open day and arriving with my parents at Derby Hall as a new student.

I spent three years studying for a degree in politics and an additional year as president of the Student Union across in the Portland Building. It was a powerfully formative time of my life.

And I admire as much as ever what Nottingham University stands for as an institution. It embodies what I think is important in education, in politics, and in society more widely.

It is an elite institution without being prohibitively elitist. It is welcoming and classless. It is imaginative; never complacent; always looking for new opportunities. It has outstanding research output. It has a diverse student intake.

I remember being told that Nottingham was the furthest south that Northern working-class men were willing to study and the furthest north that Southern middle-class women were willing to go. That is clearly not true, but there is perhaps some truth contained within it, because Nottingham University does genuinely represent all of Britain and the best of Britain.

And, as I will discuss, it is restlessly internationalist and outward-looking, making it perfectly in tune with the spirit of our times.

I know that today at this conference you will hear a variety of people giving different perspectives on the programme itself.

What I want to do this morning is to take a step back and to speak about education from my perspective as the Foreign Office Minister who is primarily concerned with the Emerging Powers of the world.

What is the impact that globalisation is having on education, and what are the effects that education is having on globalisation? Because programmes like Developing Solutions are both a product of - and a driver of - globalisation.

And what are the implications of this globalisation for education in the United Kingdom? Because I strongly believe that as a country, Britain must adapt to the realities of a more competitive international system.

Fundamentally, this will require a different attitude towards education and the outside world.

When I attended Nottingham University as a student, I had to come and study in Nottingham. Since becoming a government Minister, I have visited Nottingham University in Ningbo in China, and near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, but this is my first time back at the campus in Nottingham.

It feels funny walking into the original Trent building with its distinctive clock tower, having seen the replica Trent buildings with their own similar clock towers in China and Malaysia.

And I pay tribute to Nottingham University, because what you have done in terms of internationalising your product has been truly pioneering. It has shown what impact globalisation can have - and I believe will have - on education.

There is no doubt that at the top end of the scale, education - in all its many forms - is one of the United Kingdom’s best products. Historically, Britain has been particularly good at exporting the things of which we are most proud - taking them to new markets and new consumers. Over the centuries we have done this with inventions, manufactured goods, political institutions, football and cricket, and more recently with services - legal services, financial services, management services.

But education was never considered to be a product which could be sold in other countries. It was treated like the British Museum, or Stonehenge, or Windsor Castle - if people wanted to experience them, they had to come here. What Nottingham has shown is that education is a high quality product that can be taken to the consumer.

Like all acts of pioneering, this took guts. It was a risk. But it is one that has paid off. It has made Nottingham University the first truly international British university and has changed the face of British higher education for good.

And I am thrilled that other British universities have followed this lead. The University of Southampton has a campus in Malaysia and is due to take its first students in the autumn and University College London, now has a campus in Adelaide, Australia. And last month, my colleague David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, witnessed the agreement for Queens University Belfast to open a joint campus with China Medical University in Shenyang in China.

The economic rise of the Emerging Powers is creating massive demand for top quality education in huge markets all around the world. One example that always strikes me is the target set by the Indian government of adding 500 million skilled workers to the Indian labour force over the next decade.

Along with the United States, Britain dominates global league tables in higher education. We have the expertise to help Emerging Powers equip their labour markets with the skills required to sustain their economic growth. And such expertise is in extremely high demand.

And it is not just the size of demand in foreign markets which makes foreign campuses so attractive. Putting campuses in places which differ greatly from here in the East Midlands creates unique opportunities for research. While visiting the Malaysian campus last year I heard about studies being done on the use of tropical plants in medicine. For obvious reasons, it would not be possible to do such research in Nottingham, but it can now be done at Nottingham University.

I am sure that this is not an isolated example. Different locations have different comparative advantages and allow for new areas of specialisation. I have no doubt that the trend that Nottingham University has started will intensify in the years to come - as has the trend for university departments to forge international partnerships with other university departments across the globe.

This has facilitated scientific breakthroughs and completely new avenues of research. And this is to the benefit of human progress. Finding cures for diseases, or better possibilities for engineering, or ways of improving the output of agriculture, will benefit the entire world. Of course, it would be fantastic if these were discovered in the UK, but the globalisation of scientific research provides new opportunities from which we will all benefit, regardless of where in the world any breakthrough discovery takes place.

So, as a Foreign Office Minister who is committed to enhancing British prosperity through exports and venturing into new markets, I am delighted about Nottingham’s successful ventures in China and Malaysia. And I am delighted that our Prime Minister saw Nottingham’s success for himself during his visit to South East Asia earlier this month.

Bringing the product to the consumer is great. But that is not to say that we do not want people to come from abroad to study here in the UK. We are proud that more than four hundred thousand students come to this country each year to study in our universities. And we would be delighted to welcome many more. We have no cap on the number of students visas that we issue. Of course, their studies in the UK directly benefit the British economy. But they also enrich student life, bringing energy, dynamism and new outlooks.

The international students help British people learn about their cultures, and they will, of course, learn about ours. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, where businesses are becoming increasingly international, and where development at home requires partnership abroad, an understanding of the diverse perspectives around the globe is vital. The internationalisation of student populations is not just a result of globalisation. It will help spur globalisation by creating new connections.

And connections matter. Many students who come here will go back to their home countries to be leaders in their fields. Their connections to Britain may well bring them back to our shores as investors, as business partners, as cultural figures, or as politicians.

Someone who learnt how to run her business at the University of Nottingham may well be inclined to choose Nottingham as the location for the European headquarters of her future business.

Even foreign students who go back to their countries and put their new skills to work in ways which focus on their own country’s prosperity, will benefit us indirectly. So will the foreign students who study for a British degree remotely, who actually outnumber those foreign students studying in the UK - another example of the way in which globalisation is changing the nature of education. We want to live in world which is secure, stable and prosperous - spreading education can only bring us closer to this ultimate goal.

So while the Developing Solutions scholars may value the knowledge that they acquire during their time here in Nottingham, we value the experiences that they bring. We hope that they will develop a special bond with our country and will be able to make even more meaningful contributions in their own countries.

The benefits to education from globalisation are clear. And the benefits to globalisation from education are also clear. But we should never rest on our laurels. So let me inject a note of controversy and make two challenges to Britain’s own response to these trends. Firstly, I believe that British students are not properly grasping the opportunities provided by the increasingly international nature of education; and secondly that while the best educational institutions in the country are world class, average educational standards in Britain need to improve if we are to remain highly competitive in a global economy.

There are around 1.7 million British students studying for an undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom. There are 22,000 British students studying for a foreign undergraduate degree overseas. That is less than thirteen in every thousand.

There may be some compelling reasons for this extremely low number. As I observed earlier, education in this country is particularly good. British students may have reservations about the quality of higher education in other countries.

Universities in other countries generally do not have the recognition in the UK that British universities do. Employers might not know that the National University of Singapore ranks above the London School of Economics in the Times Higher Education University Rankings.

If the quality and recognition of an overseas degree is not as good as an English one, then why pay extra to study abroad? And, the vast majority of British students would be unable to complete a degree in a second language - which is a separate problem that I will come back to.

Let me point out that none of these reasons hold with regard to the University of Nottingham foreign campuses. The quality of education in Nottingham Malaysia is of the same quality of Nottingham Nottingham.

The degree that students receive is the same; it carries the same recognition. Yearly tuition fees in Ningbo for British students are actually lower than in Nottingham. And the courses are in English - so language is not an issue. Nevertheless, the numbers of British students at these campuses are surprisingly low.

Nottingham is a special case. But even outside this special case, the reasons for British students to reject the option of studying abroad are eroding. Many foreign universities are getting better. And the opportunities for completing part of your studies at foreign universities are growing.

Businesses are openly acknowledging the value that they place on having employees with broad horizons. A British Council report found that business leaders consider awareness and knowledge of the wider world to be more important in recruitment than degree subject and classification.

And one side-effect of the rise in university tuition fees in England is that students will be subsidised less for being unadventurous. Getting a degree abroad will make more financial sense than before.

And in fact, even in countries where English is not the first language, more and more universities are offering courses taught in English.

Though this removes one of the barriers to studying abroad, it does not address the underlying issue that British students are often less inclined to learn other languages.

In 2001 - only a decade ago - 75% of students at state comprehensives took a foreign language at GCSE. In 2010 - less than a decade later - only 40% did.

Of course we have the wonderful advantage that our first language is a globally spoken language. And the use of English as the global language did increase over this period. But the trend is still worrying for two reasons: one - it reflects an attitude that the world beyond British shores does not really matter; and two - speaking foreign languages is still important.

Just 6% of the world population speak English as a first language. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary quotes a good fact: in 2001, over half of internet usage was conducted in English, five percent was in Chinese. By 2009, English usage had fallen to 29 percent and Chinese usage had risen to 20 percent. The point is that there are opportunities out there that are not necessarily accessible in English. And building relationships with people is easier in their mother tongue.

So my first challenge is that British students will need to be - and will benefit from being - more bold and outward-looking. They should travel more, and show more interest in other languages and other cultures. They should seek opportunities to study abroad - as the Developing Solutions scholars have done. This will not only benefit them personally, but it will benefit the UK as a whole.

If we are to remain a prosperous and influential country we need to take advantage of the rise of the Emerging Powers. We need to recapture the spirit of adventure, inventiveness and innovation that got us to our position in the world today. We will never prosper by becoming more inward-looking and parochial. The opportunities in the world have never been greater, and we have to seize them.

My second challenge is that competing in the global marketplace not only requires the will to compete, it requires the ability to do so. It may seem like an odd point to make at a top university like this one - and especially after I have been extolling the merits of British education.

And it is true that our best education institutions are almost unrivalled.

We have world famous universities; we even have world famous schools which are also taking advantage of foreign markets by opening franchises across the world.

But it is also true that below this top level of excellence, our comparative educational performance has slipped and young British students are falling behind. According to the OECD world rankings of the educational attainment of 15-year olds, the UK ranks 25th in reading and 28nd in maths.

This is not good enough for a country which aspires to be a knowledge economy. To be a knowledge economy, you need to have a highly knowledgeable workforce.

And because of globalisation, young Britons face much greater competition in the labour market from foreign workers. In the same OECD rankings, the UK falls below many European countries including newer members of the EU such as Poland. So leave aside for a moment competing abroad, we need to make sure that Britain’s young people are not struggling to compete against immigrants at home.

That is why the proposed reforms to our education system are so important. Schools need more freedom to find innovative ways of teaching that work best for their students. Parents need more confidence that their children will be able to access a world class standard of state education. Universities need to be competitive and imaginative in attracting students and funding.

Improving educational performance for all young people will need time and energy. But it is essential if we want to be able to compete in the world.

Let me return finally to the Developing Solutions Programme. The message that I want to leave you with is that the 21st Century will be characterised by interconnectedness. It will be a century in which wealth is created by cross-border cooperation and partnership. So prosperity will depend on both the ability and the desire to be adventurous and outward-looking.

Developing Solutions Scholars will no doubt pick up invaluable skills and knowledge during their time here in Nottingham. But they should not underestimate the value of the connections that they make here - the relationships, and the understanding of our culture and society.

I hope that their presence here will inspire British students to follow their example - to be curious about the outside world, to look for opportunities beyond own country and to equip themselves with the skills, knowledge and experience to succeed in the globalised world of today.

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Published 30 April 2012