BRITISH universities can take nothing for granted ever again.
The days when we can count on a steady stream of foreign students to shore up the nation’s depleting higher education coffers are gone. Brexit wrecks it…
But perhaps we should be seeking to profit from our post-EU dilemma. Hopefully, the possible staunching of our steady stream of European students coupled with an anyway-diminishing international reputation, will put us on our mettle. The shock could shake us free from any complacency.
Rise of the entrepreneurial university
Could we become more entrepreneurial? Could we shore up our reputation for having some of the world’s greatest halls of learning? Can we find the storm clouds’ silver linings? Sure we can, because we’re British – and at our best when our backs are to the wall.
If Brexit wrecks it (for the moment) the first task is to prevent a brain drain.
While our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, appears to be holding her negotiating cards for exiting Europe close to her chest, 125,000 EU students studying at UK universities remain anxious, let alone the 43,000 university staff who hail from the Continent.
Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow, Vice Chancellor at the University of Kent is among academics leading the call for Government assurances that the result won’t have any immediate implications for their immigration status, fee status or access to tuition loans.
Take heart, she says, from the fact that she has already received confirmation that current EU students and those aiming to start this autumn, will continue to receive loans and/or grants for the duration of their courses.
All eyes are now on Justine Greening, (appointed by TM the PM), as Secretary of State for a new Education ministry beefed up with the portfolio of higher education and skills.
Surely Ms Greening cannot use our thousands of EU staff and students as bargaining chips in any Brexit negotiations with Europe? Many will simply break away from all that uncertainty and leave. Who wants to stay where they’re seemingly – or rather unseemingly – not wanted? By dragging out the process she will be mortgaging the future of EU students’ planning, in advance to educate themselves in Britain.
And it works both ways: Academics are already warning that Brexit will restrict the movements of more than 200,000 British students benefiting from the Erasmus Exchange Programme which provides funds for undergraduates to travel to European countries as part of their degree.
Education net gains
We daren’t be complacent about this as this British Council research demonstrates: international higher education students annually inject £10.2 billion into our economy – twice the amount paid for Premier League telly for three seasons.
But even if sense prevails and concessions are made to lure revenue-generating foreign students to our shores, there are other, urgent problems to tackle. Countries in Asia are pouring money into their universities to the massive extent that esteemed UK institutions are dropping out of the world’s top 100 rankings.
Even Oxford and Cambridge have slipped to numbers four and five globally as Asia and Australia lure in foreign students by promoting a simpler visa system.
Why this is happening is explained in this hard-hitting article in Telegraph Education supplement. At the root of the UK decline is lack of cash.
As Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sheffield points out: “The Government has been lulled into a sense of false security by our income from international students. This has enabled us to keep up the standards of our teaching and research infrastructure. It has given the boost to research on which our reputation hangs.
“But now visa restrictions are killing the goose that gave us international student income and the students who are so vital to thriving international scholarship.”
In Crisis? Think China
So… clearly among the solutions to our post-Brexit dilemma is that universities must not only work with eased visa restrictions but also intensify their links to the rest of the world – and that largely means China (Note the UK is already looking at a Free Trade Agreement).
According to UKCISA, the number of Chinese students coming to study in the UK far exceeds any other nationality at nearly 90,000 and as with other non-UK students the largest proportion are in business and administrative studies to the extent of 38.4 per cent. A couple of decades ago, a Masters degree in Business and Administration was virtually unknown in China yet by 2004 there were 47,000 MBAs trained at 62 MBA schools and as many as 10,000 enrolled in 47 schools of higher learning.
And here’s the rub: The Chinese actually now want our help to keep its massive economic booster rockets firing by seeding its rapidly expanding industries and businesses with experts.
In its recently published (13th) ‘Five-year plan’ the Chinese Education Ministry has for the first time included Enterprise and Entrepreneurship education as a key part of the curriculum to serve its 250 million student population and it is seeking guidance from the UK.
Why is China looking to the UK for Enterprise & Entrepreneurship education advice I hear you ask? Because we are good at it – jolly good at it. Over the last 10 years the UK has quietly built a global reputation for excellence in this field which is now ripe for export. The UK is also proving the value of entrepreneurship with the number of self-employed workers rocketing to a record 4.6 million this year – or 15 per cent of the workforce. China wants the same for its massively growing 1.357 billion population.
Our skill in this area is craved by the Chinese education authorities who through the China-Britain Business Council and the British Embassy held a high-level meeting in Tianjin in March to develop consistent Entrepreneur Education (EE) standards between the educational institutions of both countries.
Karen Bill, chair of Enterprise Education UK was there and said: “To set up and grow a business you need more than academic qualifications and enterprise education is increasingly important. There is a lot the Chinese can learn from the UK. We have excellent examples to support that work.”
This was the perfect cue for my own company to make a serious foray into that growing market. Earlier this month we signed a 5-year exclusive agreement with a large Chinese education distributor keen to supply our technology to schools, colleges and universities.
China suddenly has a hunger for quality enterprise and entrepreneurship resources and other countries like India (850+ million people under 26 by 2020) will or are following suit. Whatever the restrictions on the future movement of people into the UK, education leaders must adopt a global strategy and appreciate: 1) the power and influence that ‘technology’ plays in terms of empowering engaged and distance learning; and 2) any mindset that is hypnotised by traditional resources and methods of the past (see below) is a route to nowhere but contraction and ultimately extinction.
Passive learning doesn’t work
Finally, a key driver behind the 5 year Ministry of Education Plan is the desire for Chinese education to move away traditional didactic methods. The irony here is that an “adapt and survive” strategy demanded of UK universities post-Brexit is actually long overdue. The need to veer from Victorian lecture-based traditions is greater than ever.
The “sage on a stage” method may have served its purpose in the good old days as well as being a cheap way of imparting knowledge.
But a new study finds that undergraduates are one and a half times more likely to fail listening (or not listening) to lecturers, than in classes using stimulating, so-called active learning methods.
Biologist Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle and his colleagues analysed 225 studies of undergraduate teaching methods. It concluded that teaching which turned students into active participants rather than passive learners reduced failure rates and boosted exam scores.
British universities please note… it is worth investing in whole new, exciting ways of interacting with students, if not just to attract more of them from the Far East.
Key Learning Points: Without assurances about the future status of non-British students and staff, Universities will have to work even harder to punch above their weight. Back-to-the-wall thinking is needed to prevent a ‘Brexit wrecks it’ brain drain. Huge effort must be put into intensifying links with countries like China by plugging into their educational needs. It’s time to update Victorian thinking when it comes to old-fashioned and ineffective lecturing in our halls of learning.