Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2007
Q600 Chairman: Can you think of any
particular ones which come to mind which have that percentage?
Professor Brennan: Two. One I
think is the University of Luton and I think the University of
Glamorgan has got a high proportion, but it may not be that amount.
Q601 Mr Wilson: Do you have a feeling
of what the level should be of overseas students at a university;
is there a right level and a wrong level?
Professor Brennan: I do not think
I would come up with a particular level, but I would come up with
a view that an international experience should involve interaction
and integration with home students, and where within universities
there is almost kind of a particular ghetto of certain courses,
with students from another part of the world, I wonder about the
quality of that experience as an international experience.
Mr Davidson: I would like to pick
up that point about the impact of a very large proportion of foreign
students on a particular course. I think there is very strong
evidence of dissatisfaction amongst students about the educational
experience they get if there is a predominance of foreign students,
particularly if it is a predominance of foreign students from
a particular country, most usually China, on that particular course.
Certainly there are some courses in the UK where upwards of 75%
of the students may well be from overseas, and I think that does
have an impact on the overall reputation of the institution overseas.
Q602 Mr Wilson: At the moment, I
suppose overseas students are the goose laying the golden egg.
Do we have a realistic expectation of that continuing, or do we
think that might change over time?
Mr Davidson: The research that
we have undertakenwe undertook some research with IDP and
with other institutions two years agoindicated that there
would be a continuing growth in international student mobility.
The issue for the UK is about our market share. At the moment,
we have about a 24% market share of the student flows. I do not
think there is any question that we would be able to maintain
that so well; the overall number may grow but the proportion coming
to the UK, as opposed to other countries, is likely to decrease.
There has been a very, very sharp increase in the flows to new
countries, so countries like Malaysia, Singapore, China all have
student recruitment targets set by governments. China has something
like 110,000 foreign students studying there now, from a base
of virtually nil two or three years ago; so the competition for
foreign student flows is very marked. I think the other big shift
in the market, which we see coming in, is a shift away from students
travelling to other countries purely for education and looking
for a much more mixed education environment, including some period
of study in their own country, maybe followed up by study overseas,
or indeed wholly-owned study within their own country but given
through some mix of curriculum from a foreign university as well
as a home university. The whole environment is becoming a much
more complex one, though the overall scale, the overall shift,
of students around the world is set to increase.
Q603 Mr Wilson: I have finished my
questions but if we could have the figures for the Muslim countries
that would be very helpful?
Mr Davidson: Yes. I have figures
with absolute numbers. I do not have figures for change over time,
but I can write to the Committee with this.
Mr Wilson: Thank you.
Q604 Mr Pelling: Just to follow up
on Rob Wilson's line of questioning, my understanding of how we
work competitively, as it were, against the US, in terms of the
quality and ease of visa applications, is probably about two years
out of date. How are we standing vis-a"-vis the US?
My understanding is that the US recognised that there were some
very real problems, in terms of the visa process for foreign students;
could they be regarded now as being more customer-friendly than
Mr Davidson: I would say that,
yes, without doubt, the US has learned a very sharp lesson and
is applying itself very assiduously to increasing student numbers.
Virtually all our major competitor countries have put substantial
sums of money into marketing themselves overseas and that includes
establishing advisory centres, establishing new scholarship schemes
and, most particularly, looking at their visa regimes in the US.
While the US, like the UK, is seeing a drop in its market share,
it is putting substantial sums of money, about US$400 million
a year, into trying to rebuild that.
Professor Robinson: I think Australia
is seen as very visa-friendly to Asian students.
Q605 Chairman: We went to Australia.
It is no wonder that they get students, they give permanent residence
to people who take a course there. It is mixed in with a migration
policy. Surely, that is not part of international competition;
it is a different agenda, is it not, with the Australian Government?
Bernadette, you said it as though they are much better than us;
come on, it is not the same thing at all?
Professor Robinson: It may be
a different agenda for the Australian Government but it is the
perception of the students applying for the visa, and most of
them that I know of come back.
Q606 Chairman: I have to say that
most developed countries would be perceived as very friendly if
they said "If you come in and study you can stay;" that
is overfriendly, is it not?
Professor Robinson: Yes, but I
do not think that is always the intention of the students who
Chairman: Fiona; you know about this.
Q607 Fiona Mactaggart: Bernadette,
of the people in front of us, I think, it sounds to me, probably
you have spent more time speaking to students overseas. How important
actually are the prospects of migration and future work to students,
in thinking about where they may study overseas?
Professor Robinson: I think, from
the perspective of China, many of the students there, as well
as getting their qualification, want to get some work experience
and many I know in the UK have been here for a few years working
but intend to go back to China at some point. The work experience
is a very important part of their motivation in coming to the
UK to do a qualification, but also they have intentions about
going back. For new graduates, I think the job market has changed
in China. Before, until quite recently, if you had a foreign degree
you were assured of a job straightaway when you returned to China;
that is no longer the case, partly because more graduates are
coming out of Chinese universities, with the expansion of higher
education, and the job market itself has changed.
Q608 Fiona Mactaggart: John, your
paper suggested that we have quite a short degree and then there
is more training in employment. Do you think that connects with
this point, and therefore the work after, that now we have got
a visa regime which allows students to stay and do related work
a year after; do you think that is significant in making the UK
an interesting place or an attractive place to study, because
of the fact that we do not have so much vocational training in
our degree courses and various other places?
Professor Brennan: Again, in terms
of the European comparisons, I think that analysis makes a lot
of sense because the more general the academic programmes the
more portable they are. If I may, I would add the point to this
in terms of different stages of mobility, so whilst we were talking
earlier about UK students being less likely to study or work abroad
on Erasmus programmes we have been doing some recent research
which does demonstrate that, but when one looks at work and study
abroad after the conclusion of the first degree the UK figure
is actually at the European average of 21%, which I think is quite
high. In terms of that working abroad being long stay, in other
words, for a year or more, the UK figure is actually higher than
the European average. In terms of looking at student flows, I
think there is quite a lot of different levels in looking at it,
and it is not just during the course, it is after the course,
there are issues of duration, do you come back again or not come
back again, and I think it makes analysis quite complex, in that
Professor Brown: There is another
term which has been introduced now, which is brain circulation,
which is different from brain drain. The brain drain notion was
where you went from India and China into, for example, the US
or Britain and you stayed there, and so that talent was lost to
India and China. Especially with the Indian experience, there
is now this idea of brain circulation, that it is kind of okay
for people to go overseas to get their education because ultimately
they are going to go back and add value to their national economy;
so I think probably you will hear quite a lot about brain circulation,
in terms of globalisation debates. How realistic that is, of course,
is another question altogether, but what we do know is that more
people, for example, from India, are returning to India, and as
the job market improves in India and China, certainly certain
parts of it, then you will get movement back, but still many stay
on, if they can, in Europe or in North America because the jobs
are better, the pay is better.
Q609 Fiona Mactaggart: I am also
interested in the different models of study. Bernadette, your
institution has a campus in China; and, Martin, in your evidence,
the British Council predicted that by 2010 that might be a more
common model than students coming here. I want to know what are
the risks in terms of that for the British higher education product;
is it good, is it the quality that we need? What are the guarantees
that those kinds of overseas satellites can be good enough; what
are the risks, in terms of them just being adopted as Chinese
institutions or similar, and are people good at doing this? Is
this a good model for the student?
Professor Robinson: I would like
to start a stage further back, if I may, in answering this. I
think there are three main ways in which the internationalisation
of higher education can be turned into action, can be operationalised.
One is by recruiting students to come to the UK, which is the
very common one, which has been happening now for some years.
Another one is through transnational courses of different kinds,
distance education, different combinations of distance education
and in-country. Then there is this model of locating your institution
or locating your programmes in-country, with a special status,
not just an offshore operation, which has been used by the USA
and Canada and various countries and Australia. I think there
are three models, but in the UK I think we have had the dominance
of this first model, of students coming here always to do courses.
I think that in the future, over the next 10 years, there has
to be exploration of different models, there has to be development
of different models to counteract the changes that are happening
and also maybe different flows and surges of numbers coming into
recruitment in the UK and other models. The University of Nottingham
has two campuses; it has one in Malaysia and one in China, the
first foreign university in China, the first Sino-foreign university,
and I think the motivations of those three different models are
different. The idea of students coming here is to generate income
for universities. I think the Nottingham Ningbo model is a `not
for profit' model but for different reasons. I think the future
of the internationalisation of higher education, certainly with
some countries, like China and India, rests really on the development
of relationships, that is the thing which is going to sustain
flows of students, which is going to generate research interaction
and develop relationships into new models which we have not thought
of yet. I do not think I have answered your question, but that
is the kind of context.
Chairman: It was a very interesting answer
Q610 Fiona Mactaggart: Were you going
to say something about your prediction on numbers, Martin?
Mr Davidson: Just a couple of
things, quickly. I think that the model of a transfer or creation
of a home campus overseas is unlikely to be a major form of transnational
education in the future. I think that the other models, of courses,
shared courses, joint curriculum development, are more likely,
the nature of the transfer that we have been talking about. All
of these, of course, lead to substantial issues around quality.
I hasten to add, I have no comments whatsoever about the quality
of the Nottingham offering in China and Malaysia, but it is a
very substantial challenge to the reputation of British education
to maintain quality through offshore delivery, particularly at
the individual course level rather than the whole institution
level. Maybe that is a challenge which we have to face up to.
I would challenge a little bit Bernadette's assertion that the
major focus of inward flows of students is financial; of course
finance is an important aspect of it but actually it does have
a number of other, very substantial, additional benefits to British
higher education. I think there is a third aspect of British higher
education's international agenda, which is about education reform
and development in other countries. It is one of the aspects which
are of really very considerable importance in our work, British
institutions' willingness to work with foreign institutions on
capacity-building, institutional development, as well as at a
whole system level of looking at higher education system development
in emerging countries. Student flows, creation of courses overseas
and engagement with the education system overseas are all aspects
of British higher education.
Professor Robinson: I was not
suggesting that money was the only motivation, but for some institutions
I think it is the primary motivation. Of course, there are all
these other reasons why we need to recruit students from other
countries, as Martin has said. I think I am not advocating the
model of Ningbo as the ideal; what I am saying is that it is at
one end of a continuum, and along that you have got all sorts
of possibilities for combinations, sharing, etc. In the past we
have had a lot of franchising but that raises whole issues of
quality assurance and quality standards. I think there is scope
for exploration of new models but they bring with them their own
problems as well.
Q611 Fiona Mactaggart: One of the
things which strike me about the university experience is that
traditionally we have associated with universities academic freedom,
freedom of thought, a number of things which actually are not
necessarily the norm in some of the countries which are sending
very large numbers of overseas students. I am wondering whether,
when you create an institution like that, those issues become
issues in those institutions and whether you are exporting some
values, or whether actually you are failing to, I suppose is really
the question I want to address. Are students getting the traditional
academic freedom, openness of debate, that we associate with British
higher education, or not, and if they are how?
Mr Davidson: Other than agreeing
absolutely that one of the huge benefits which flow from students
coming to this country is access to the entire value system which
underpins higher education, which I think then does go back to
their countries of origin, as well as the sets of relationships
they create, unquestionably there is an issue which I would suggest
is part of the quality debate, whether or not those same values
are going to inform the experience that they get in a different
Q612 Fiona Mactaggart: Bernadette,
your institution does this kind of thing. I want to know whether
you are confident that you are actually delivering that and what
the struggles are. I cannot believe there have not been some struggles?
Professor Robinson: I am not here
speaking on behalf of my institution so I must be very careful
not to do that, but I can speak from my own experience of teaching
in Chinese universities and what staff and I can or cannot do
in our teaching sessions. Of course I can do most things in my
teaching sessions, because I am an ignorant foreigner who can
make all sorts of mistakes; but certainly there are sensitivities
around some topics that one has to be careful of and I think there
is control. I think the practice of having a Party observer in
all teaching sessions is now gone, but nonetheless every university
has its Party committee and the deputies of educational institutions
are Party officials, so it is not entirely absent, and all students
must do an ideology course, so one is working within that cultural
Q613 Fiona Mactaggart: What do we
think that this does for the reputation of British higher education;
does anybody else want to comment on that?
Professor Brennan: I know, a few
years ago, a lot of foreign universities were setting up various
kinds of shop in South Africa, and British universities, I think,
were to the fore there, and of course they were having to satisfy
the Quality Assurance Agency of the quality of what they were
doing out there, and a year or so on South Africa created its
own Higher Education Quality Committee which set about doing its
own appraisals of programmes. It started with MBA programmes,
and a high proportion of the UK provision effectively lost its
franchise. The point here, I think, is that a good quality higher
education experience in a UK context may not be actually what
is required in a very different culture and context, and there
may be certain elements which are in common and certain elements
which differ. I do not think there were major problems, I think
the UK providers changed fairly rapidly to meet the South African
requirements, but I think the question of who should be the ultimate
arbiter of quality is quite an interesting one and clearly has
implications for the international standing of UK higher education.
Professor Brown: It depends on
the subject area, does it not; if it is engineering then it is
not usually a problem, if it is social sciences often it is a
big problem. The first thing we do is get our students towe
like using the termcritically assess, evaluate, and what
does that mean to a Chinese student; it was a big problem because
they want the answer, the correct answer, the one that the lecturer
gives them. It is a real challenge to get them to say, "Well,
it's okay but there are no actual right and wrong answers here;
just look at the evidence and give an assessment of this."
That is pretty hard, and within a different cultural environment
it is even more difficult, it strikes me; so there are real problems.
We could not teach half of our courses in social sciences in Singapore,
for instance, because we would be challenging the system and that
would not be acceptable; so I think there is a big issue about
what it is you are going to teach, where, and maintaining those
standards. If we are just chasing money then we have got a big
problem, it strikes me.
Q614 Fiona Mactaggart: Do we have
any mechanisms which ensure that people do not go out, exporting
British sociology-based courses which say "This is the answer"?
Mr Davidson: Certainly there are
mechanisms in place which look at the quality of British offers
overseas, yes. I would be very surprised if those systems would
accept a course which said "This is the answer" rather
than "This is nature of the critical inquiry approach;"
so, yes, there are systems in place. As John said earlier, alluding
to the South Africa experience, those systems are pretty vigorous
and on the whole do match up when challenged by local systems.
Fiona Mactaggart: It sounds to me, in
terms of quality, when students are coming here, that we have
a very strong draw at the really high end of the market, also
perhaps at the other end of the market, and that there is an issue
in the kind of middle-rank universities about how well they are
drawing in and bringing in overseas students here. Is that an
issue about reputation, is that an issue about marketing, is that
an issue about actually how they welcome students in the institutions?
I am not talking about the countrywide level, I am talking of
the institutional level. Does anyone know?
Q615 Chairman: It is a big problem
for you, is it not? If you were doing your job properly, which
I am sure you are, you should be telling universities which do
not come up to scratch or are not competing that your feedback
from the big client countries is this and that way; or do you
not have that relationship?
Mr Davidson: Yes, we do have that
relationship, and the Education UK Partnership is very much based
around learning from each other. Marketing in an international
environment is a very complex business and I do not think there
is any question that a number of institutions, which have come
late to it, have found it quite a bumpy ride; whereas, obviously,
there is a large number of institutions which have been involved
internationally for a very, very long period of time. The issues
which are critical tend to be around overreliance on a single
market, overreliance on a particular level of education, and there
are problems around, for example, one-year Master's degrees, in
that you have to renew that constantly on an annual basis; the
undergraduate market, you need to recruit them only once every
three years. The other overreliance tends to be in a particular
subject area; so an institution which is overreliant on Master's
degrees or short courses in a particular subject area, in a particular
country, is going to have a very high level of exposure. I think
that there are issues about some institutions which have allowed
themselves to get into that particular position. The sector as
a whole, I think, absolutely does see the dangers to reputation
of any part of it being seen to be too intent on simply recruiting
students at any cost; so I think that the peer pressure around
quality and ensuring quality, both in the recruitment process
and the student experience, has grown very considerably over the
last few years.
Q616 Chairman: Professor Brennan,
I am getting a bit worried about some of your points because you
seem to have a rather low opinion of British universities; is
not that right? You thought we were overvaluing ourselves and
that really we were not much cop, compared with our competitors,
if we looked at the true stats: really is that what you thought?
Professor Brennan: No; no, not
Q617 Chairman: It may be the truth.
We like hearing from the OU, because you have not got that kind
of institutional, long-term prejudice which sometimes we get from
some institutions; so tell us how it is, from your view?
Professor Brennan: I think, to
some extent, sometimes we assume that there is a particular Anglo-Saxon
model which could be applicable everywhere and others would follow.
I think what I would say is that there are a number of models;
within the European context, higher education in the UK is relatively
Q618 Chairman: Because it is output-based
in that time?
Professor Brennan: Yes. I was
going to say, that is not necessarily a criticism, but what I
think it does suggest is that there is perhaps a somewhat different
division of labour between higher education and employers, in
terms of the preparation of graduates for work, different relationships
with the labour market. I think there is some evidence to suggest
that other European countries are rather more effective at managing
the initial transition into work and graduates, in their first
jobs perhaps, feel anyway rather better prepared for them than
graduates within the UK.
Q619 Chairman: With seven years to
prepare yourself for work, you ought to be ready, I would have
Professor Brennan: Yes; a fair
point. Indeed, rather than looking at duration within higher education,
if one just took young people, I do not know, at age 27, would
there be very much difference? Equally, I think there is an argument
that there may be longer-term benefits from the UK approach, in
terms of flexibility, in terms of lifelong learning, and really
a much more open labour market in terms of the role that credentials
play in moving people through them. I think the point perhaps
I would want to emphasise is to recognise that the UK system reflects
one particular model; there are other models around and I think
we need to recognise and understand that.
2 Note by witness: Proportions of international
students of around 40% can be found in some places. According
to a recent HEPI report (Exposure to the International Student
Market) institutions with the highest proportions of international
students include LSE, SOAS, the London Business School, Essex,
Luton and City universities. Back
Ev 472. Back