Current stressors such as rising inflation, concerns about China security and the Ukraine crisis will all have “long-term impacts” on the international education sector, stakeholders at BUILA’s conference have said.
Delegates at the conference, taking place at the ICC Wales, were told that rules and regulations regarding visas, inflation and more are impacting students.
“All of a sudden you’ve got changes on the ground, not just Covid and visas, but also fuel prices and travel costs,” said Malcolm Butler, VP of global engagement at the University of Sheffield said.
Before Butler’s plenary, Charlotte Bellis, a journalist based in New Zealand who until recently worked as a Middle East Al Jazeera correspondent, outlined for delegates the current events affecting the world as we know it.
She mentioned specifically a co-coordinated security services speech made on July 6 regarding the “threat from China”, and how it was the “biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security”.
It was the first joint appearance by an MI5 director and FBI director in history, Bellis said, demonstrating the real-time importance of what is currently happening in China.
“We know there are issues still going on in China – that’s not just a challenge for us [as international office representatives] in the future relationship – it’s the UK government as well. We’ve all seen the news about research, IP, security, but a huge part of our economy hinges on it,” Butler explained.
A report co-authored by former UK universities minister Jo Johnson, released this week, has warned institutions that they need to prepare for future geopolitical shocks.
“It’s a real balancing act that we have to do in terms of our sector,” Butler said, also pointing to human rights issues in Saudi Arabia as another challenge.
Ukraine, which Bellis outlined as the “biggest story of the year”, also poses funding issues for universities at the moment.
“There’s been a huge outflow of support for Ukraine, which I think is very understandable. But from a sector perspective, with these priority visas from Ukraine, what has that done for students in China and India? Has it affected them? When do visas come back online?” Butler pointed out.
UK Home Office officials have said that applications for study visas “have taken longer to process” as a result of prioritising Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine applications. Preparations for a “summer student surge” were underway in late June, as reported by The PIE.
“Many of us as universities have done scholarships for Ukraine, but I think that’s a dilemma in its own right because singling out a country does affect our values of equality, and also there’s only going to be so much money,” Butler added.
Bellis highlighted that inflation is, at the moment, an extremely pressing problem.
“Singling out a country does affect our values of equality, and also there’s only going to be so much money”
“It’s hard to get it under wraps because you have different kinds of responses in different nations and that can spur on to so many different issues. That could create a lot of damage,” she said.
It is also impacting the ability of university staff to continue with in-person recruiting. Slashed travel budgets, price of fuel increases, flight cancellations and looming strikes are all worries for the sector.
While China is still of great concern, stakeholders pointed to opportunity in transnational education, which has seen growth in China over the last three years.
“On the TNE side, universities need to work more closely with governments, not just DIT, but also the Department of Education, the British Council, in terms of due diligence,” said Sarah Chidgey, head of international education at the Department for International Trade.
“There are occasionally some universities that are falling foul of export control legislation; they are in the minority, but getting more government advice can help avoid that.
“More positively, we can help [universities] find good partnerships that will benefit both you and China,” she added.
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