UK education: the best for the brightest

Transcript of a speech by Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner, at Delhi University, Thursday 9 January 2014.

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

James Bevan


Vice Chancellor Singh, Mr King, senior faculty members, other distinguished guests, students, friends and colleagues

It’s said that a diplomat is someone who can tell you go to hell in such a nice way that you look forward to the journey. I am not going to tell you to go to hell today. Instead I am going to issue an invitation to go somewhere else.

But first let me say how delighted I am to join you here at the University of Delhi for today’s Great Debate. There are already strong links between the UK and the University, and we hope that today’s event will strengthen them further. I am grateful to the Vice Chancellor and all those members of the University for making today possible; and to our partner Virgin Atlantic and its India director Stephen King. I know that you have had an exciting series of debates this afternoon, and I look forward in a moment to joining the Vice Chancellor in announcing and congratulating the winners. Their prize will be a one week study tour to the UK.

But no matter which names we announce in a moment, I encourage all of you students here to remember that in a bigger sense you are all winners. You are winners because you are attending Delhi University, widely regarded as the best university in the whole of India. You are winners because you are young, and I do think – as I know your last debate proposed – that now is the best time in history to be young. And you are winners because you are Indian: your country has a great future in front of it and you will have the joy of helping build that future. Before we announce the results of today’s competition, I wanted to ask you a question, then issue all of you with an invitation.

The question is this: what do these people have in common? Rahul Gandhi; Manmohan Singh; Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid; Cyrus Mistry, the boss of Tata; Kumar Birla, chairman of the Birla Group; Karan Thapar and Arnab Goswami, the TV presenters; Vikram Seth, the writer; Suneet Varma, the fashion designer; Soha Ali Khan, the Bollywood actress; Amartya Sen, the Nobel-prize winning economist; and Najeeb Jung, the Lt-Governor of Delhi.

The obvious answer is that they are all famous Indians at the top of their professions. But the more interesting answer is that they have all studied in the UK.

In fact many of India’s present and past leaders chose education in the UK. But you are India’s future leaders, and we want you to make that choice as well. And it is a choice, because many other countries, including India itself, offer you a good education too. So why should young Indians like you choose the UK as the place to continue your studies, over all our competitors? Here are my Top Ten reasons.

  1. Quality. UK education is the best in the world. The UK has 4 of the top 10 universities in the world, according to the latest rankings of global universities carried out by the QS organization (Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, Imperial). And out of the top 100 universities in the world, no less than 18 are in the UK.

  2. Choice. In the UK you can study anything, anywhere. We have over 300 institutes of higher learning. They offer thousands of different courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level: engineering, digital media, animation, business, bioscience, cyber security, sports management, fashion, politics, environmental policy, international development, psychology, marketing - the list is almost infinite. If you can’t study it in the UK, you can’t study it anywhere.

  3. Recognition. A UK qualification is known throughout the world. It confirms that the holder has had a first class education. It is the passport to the global success that every aspirational young Indian wants.

  4. Value for money. Studying in the UK is not cheap. But in life, you get what you pay for: quality costs money. And the cost of a UK education is possibly the best single investment you can make in your own future. Research shows that foreign students who have been educated in the UK get significantly higher salaries than those who have been educated exclusively at home. And compared with other countries with first class educational institutions, the UK is not an expensive place to study. It is actually cheaper than the US in terms of university fees.

  5. Your career. A recent survey of employers from all over the world found that graduates from UK universities are among the most desirable for employers from both the private and the public sector. Indeed five of the world’s top ten universities for employability are in the UK. Think for a minute about what employers look for. They want people with excellent English, good interpersonal skills, an international outlook and cultural awareness. They want people who are good at time-management and self-organisation, with a positive attitude and willingness to learn. And they want people who have the ability to respond well to challenges, who are able to come up with new ideas, and are creative in solving problems. Those skills are precisely what studying in the UK will give you.

  6. Because the UK is a global centre. The UK is one of the most diverse countries in the world. We have students from every country: 500, 000 of them in the UK at any time. In fact a quarter of all the students in the UK are from other countries. Like their Indian fellow students, they are usually the best and brightest in the world. Indians are great networkers. Network with the best!

  7. Because we speak English. Which means that you can concentrate on the studying not on the language. And that your chances of a successful career are higher. Research shows that people who speak excellent English – which is another of the major benefits of studying in the UK – have substantially higher salaries and reach more senior positions than those who don’t.

  8. Because the UK has strong ties to home. There are over 1.5 million people of Indian origin in the UK. Almost every Indian coming to the UK will have friends and family there. And there are more Indian students in the UK than any other foreign nationality except Chinese. So wherever you go in the UK, it feels like coming home.

  9. Lifestyle. The UK is just a great place to live. We have beautiful countryside, historic palaces, exciting cities, vibrant culture. It is a very safe place to live,– a point that as a parent I know matters to all Indian parents. And it’s an exciting place to live. Britain recently topped the latest global “soft power” list as the country which is most attractive to others. Factors which won us that accolade include our pop music (British acts account for more than 10% of total world music sales), computer games (the world’s best-selling game, Grand Theft Auto V, which I have been known to play myself when I need some violent therapy, was made in the UK), film (James Bond), the number of foreign students, the quality of life, and even (yes) our cuisine. Although some of that cuisine is yours: Camellia Punjabi, who introduced regional Indian cuisine to the UK, said recently that the best Indian food in the world is now served in London. And don’t forget sport: the UK is home to three of India’s favourite sports – cricket, golf and football. Although I probably shouldn’t claim cricket for my country: as the Indian writer Asish Nandy has pointed out, cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British.

  10. We want you. We in the UK want the world’s best and brightest to come and study in our country: the talent that you have is good for our education, for our economy and for our place in the world. There’s a global competition for the best and brightest: you students here are in that category. We want you in Britain

We offer help. There are hundreds of scholarship schemes available for prospective Indian students in the UK, offered by universities, private foundations, and the British Government itself. The UK government’s prestigious Chevening Scholarships for future leaders brings about 60 Indians to the UK every year. There are other scholarships too: check the British Council website.

And we try to make it easy. Here’s something that will surprise you: visas are not a problem. Really. Precisely because we want the world’s best and brightest, we have set no limit on the numbers of foreign students who can come to Britain. No limit. So if you are a genuine student with a place at a UK university, you will get your visa. And if you want to work in the UK after study, you can do that too - for at least three years - provided you get a graduate level job.

So the UK really is a great place to study. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? I am the British High Commissioner – I am paid to say these things. So don’t take my word for it. Take instead the word of a young Indian who recently returned from studying in the UK, Sandeep Basi, who now runs his own successful start-up business here in India:

“It all started with my decision to study abroad. I chose the UK and enrolled for an MSC in Business at the University of Glasgow. I got an opportunity to study with a multicultural crowd and the world’s top achievers. Coming back to India my UK qualification was much appreciated and gave me an edge. The network I created during my time in the UK proved fruitful. What UK education does to you is open up your mind and force you to think independently. A UK degree lays a solid foundation for a promising career. Today I recommend it to my friends. UK education trains you for the best”.

And finally, let me give you one other bonus reason to consider coming to the UK, and it’s this: it will change your life. The British author Terry Pratchett once wrote: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

So as you young Indians think about your future, think about continuing your studies in Britain. We offer the best for the brightest: the best education in the world for the most talented people in the world. That’s you. My message to all of you today is simple: I invite you to the UK to study. It could be the best decision you ever make.

Published 9 January 2014