Select Committee on Education and Skills Eighth Report


The increased internationalisation of higher education potentially brings great benefits, both economic and otherwise, for the UK and its universities. In order to ensure that the UK continues to experience those benefits, there are a number of issues that need to be kept in mind.

Collaboration and partnership working

Collaboration and partnership working are vital for the future development of the international dimension in higher education. We welcome initiatives such as the UK India Education and Research Initiative and recommend that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the British Council and their partners in the university sector explore the possibility of developing similar arrangements for China and for other countries. Joint ventures are likely to involve the development joint courses and undertaking joint curriculum development, as there will be no further approvals of joint campuses until the Chinese government has assessed the success of those established so far.

We recommend that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the British Council explore with institutions in China and in the UK how best to build on initiatives already taken to improve collaboration in higher education, including vocational education and the development of pedagogy. As part of that exercise, the Government should provide funding to facilitate collaboration, including the establishment of a major, prestigious foundation, in partnership with the private sector, to provide scholarships and fellowships. These are issues which should be discussed at the high level UK/China summit which we understand is to be held in China in September.

Post-graduate education

The provision of high quality post-graduate education is essential to enable the HE sector to thrive. If the UK higher education sector is to succeed in attracting the most highly qualified students to study here at post-graduate level, it needs to work with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to provide more systematic support.

UK students travelling abroad

To maximise the benefits of international education, student flows need to be two way. We examined ways of encouraging larger numbers of students from the UK to undertake part of their studies in another country. One is for the HE sector to be more strategic, to decide as a matter of policy that more students should spend time in another country and aim to facilitate that. Another is flexibility. Many students would welcome the opportunity to study abroad for shorter periods—3 or 6 months—rather than a whole year. Having a proper credit transfer system would clearly also be of great benefit. The situation needs to be addressed rapidly to ensure that the UK does not lose out in both cultural and economic terms.

Underlying all of these issues is the need for a concerted drive to improve foreign language capacity. This will require action in schools, but universities should also provide intensive short courses to enable students to undertake study abroad. Some languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, should continue to be treated as strategically important subjects to ensure that capacity in them is retained.

Maintaining quality

International students bring academic, cultural and financial benefits, and the majority of universities have international strategies which recognise that. The HE sector needs, however, to guard against the risk that the recruitment of international students will be seen as driven by short term gains in fee income by ensuring that the teaching and research offered are of high quality. Building genuine partnerships and engaging in thoughtful collaborations will lead to more sustainable relationships with institutions and students from other countries.

Part-time student funding

As participation in higher education has increased, so the nature of the student body has changed. Forty per cent of students are defined as studying part time. Full time students, however, work on average 14 hours a week in paid employment, and 20% work more than 20 hours a week. It is hard to see how someone employed for 20 hours or more each week can be defined as a full time student; yet those students have access to the full range of student support denied to others defined as part time. The distinction between part time and full time students for the purpose of fee and income support is now so blurred as to be no longer sustainable. We recommend that the Government reviews as a matter of urgency the current arrangements for fee support payable to institutions for part time students and the availability of support for part time students themselves. For the future, we believe that students should be seen as one group with a variety of needs for support rather than being arbitrarily divided into categories of part time and full time.

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Prepared 5 August 2007