International higher education

Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, speaks about international higher education.

Thanks Ciaran for that introduction and for inviting me to open Going Global. It’s a highlight in the annual international education calendar - a pleasure to welcome it back to London in my new role.

As someone lucky enough to do post graduate study in France and Belgium, some 15 and 20 years ago, I’m delighted that more and more UK students are now seizing the chance to broaden their horizons.

When I went off on the ferry to the Université Libre de Bruxelles in the mid-1990s, and a few years later to INSEAD in the forest of Fontainebleau, it was a niche move.

Today, the British Council’s research tells us that over a third of UK students are interested in studying abroad.

And while the increase in the number of those who actually take the leap is encouraging - almost 29,000 students last year – we need to do more.

CBI surveys show our businesses remain unhappy with UK graduates’ overall foreign language abilities and disappointed by their general cultural awareness. We must do more to prepare ourselves for the globalised world.

I welcome the strong demand for the EU’s Erasmus Programme and for the British Council’s Generation UK Programme, which aims to send up to 80,000 UK students to China and 25,000 students to India by 2020.

We must build on these important programmes, which both increase students’ employability and support the UK’s ties overseas.

A warm welcome to international students

The UK of course values international students who come to this country too. We recognise that competition for the brightest and best students from other countries is intensifying.

We will continue to ensure that our excellent education system remains a magnet for brilliant minds.

Today, we have more than 435,000 international higher education (HE) students, which means that nearly 1 in 5 students in our university population is from overseas – and over in 4 in our capital city.

They come for the world class quality of our education and the opportunities for research. We have more top ranking universities in London than in any other city in the world. With 4 universities in the global top 10, we rank second only to the US.

Our research base is world leading, our universities are world-class, we develop and attract the world’s brightest minds and we are second in the world when ranked by Nobel prizes.

The benefits to the UK

International students enrich this offering.

They contribute to our research capacity. And the £3.9 billion they bring in tuition fees helps our universities invest in first class facilities and provision. International students also stimulate demand for courses where domestic demand alone can be insufficient to sustain them, ensuring that a wider range of courses are available for all students and that some strategically important courses remain viable.

In particular, they help us maintain our first class STEM provision: 47% of post-graduate level students in subjects such as engineering and technology are from non-EU countries.

International students also provide a cultural cross-fertilisation that benefits everyone. In a recent survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan, 87% of university applicants said studying alongside international students would give them a better world view and 85% thought it would prepare them for working in a global environment.

Tapping top-flight student talent globally will not just mean the UK gains in terms of innovation, research and a broader science and skills base. Greater exchange of students now will mean stronger relationships later.

Today’s international students are tomorrow’s world leaders. They take friendships and loyalties home with them that later become trade links, cultural bonds and diplomatic ties. Nearly 80% of students anticipate developing professional links with the UK.

The immediate economic benefits from international students are real too - for every 100 non-EU students, 45 full time equivalent jobs are created and £4.6 million generated in UK businesses – and they are felt right across the UK.

London is the most popular destination in the world for overseas students, but 23% of non-EU students are in the North of England, 16% in the Midlands and 9% in Scotland.

These benefits are reflected in public attitudes. A number of polls, most recently one by YouGov for The Times, show the great majority of the British public (72% in this case) think we should have the current number of international students or more. Not fewer.

A clear message from the Prime Minister

I want students from across the world to understand our commitment:

We will roll out the red carpet to the brightest and best, to the talented workers and brilliant students that help Britain’s success.

There is no cap on the number of overseas students that can come to study at our universities.

That’s not just me, but the Prime Minister, speaking just a few days ago.

Sometimes people worry that they are taking places from British students. There used to be a limit on the number of British students that government would fund.

But we have a sustainable graduate repayment scheme in place, and we are in a position to remove limits on the number of UK students that publicly-funded universities can recruit, lifting the cap on aspiration.

No longer will there be young people eager to go to university, young people that universities wanted to teach, who cannot get places because of a limit imposed by Whitehall.

Genuine students

Government’s welcome to international students is genuine. But it is to genuine students.

It is right that we are clamping down on fraudulent applications and bogus colleges – we have stopped over 870 of these institutions from recruiting international students since 2010 and will take all steps necessary to protect international students from rogue providers and dodgy operators.

That’s why I can announce today (1 June 2015) that we have taken further action by appointing Graduate Prospects to help us expose unscrupulous organisations and remove misleading websites wherever they make an appearance.

Such changes are in the interests of all legitimate providers because they protect the reputation of the UK as a provider of high-quality education.

It is also right that we have reformed the student visa system to ensure that students who are not genuine cannot abuse the system. And we will take proportionate action to deal with overstaying wherever our new system of exit checks shows it to be an issue.

Strengthening our HE system

The best way to attract good quality students, from all over the world, is to maintain our world class higher education sector. And this we have.

But we are not resting on our laurels. We have introduced important reforms to our higher education system from 2012.

The OECD considers us to be one of the few countries in the world to have established a sustainable approach to higher education funding.

Increasing international student recruitment

So we have a strong offering to the world, which explains why we are currently the second most popular destination for international study, after the USA.

But I am concerned that some feel the UK does not welcome students as warmly as we once did and that there has been a decline of student numbers from some of our key partners, most notably India.

It is a personal aim of mine to overcome misconceptions about the UK in such important countries.

Data tells a good tale. Once here, Indian students’ satisfaction rate is 90%. And most of those say they would recommend their universities to others.

We will engage and explain. We will make clear that there is no cap on the number of students who can come to study in the UK and no intention to introduce one.

Nor is there any cap on the number of former students who can stay on to work - as long as they have a graduate job.

Across all our international education activity, we have an ambition to grow.

We are committed to increasing education exports from £18 billion in 2012 to £30 billion by 2020. We will not achieve that goal unless we continue to attract the brightest and best from around the world.

We are expanding our scholarship programmes. Last year we tripled funding for Chevening scholarships. This year the government will spend over £70m on scholarships in the Chevening, Commomwealth and Marshall schemes.

Enabling over 2500 scholarships and support for 60,000 alumni, these schemes help forge life-long links between our nations.


The breadth of attendance today is testament to the importance we all attach to international opportunities.

Global education leads to wealth, health and mutual understanding. It builds foundations for cultural and economic enrichment.

Going Global provides an ideal forum to discuss how we can make our ambitions a reality and I wish you all the very best for a successful conference.