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International students. International influence.

23 November 2012

While 2012 has been an undeniably marvelous year for the UK in terms of sporting achievements and cultural landmarks, the subject of international education has become a contentious issue.

This year, and for the first time ever, the UK was number one in Monocle magazine’s Soft Power Survey, beating the USA, Germany and Japan. Listing football, pop music, the Olympics and James Bond as among the recent, positive global associations with the country, the survey also cites the number of international students studying in the UK (370,000) as valuable and empirical measure of ‘soft’ collateral.

However grand this statistic might appear, as Monocle themselves point out, it is only half the story. The government's promise to cut the number of student visas threatens the UK’s international reputation at a time when the nation should be capitalising on major gains.

To continue to support international education is to continue to attract the brightest international students to an education system that is already renowned as one of the best in the world. Though not designed to exclude those students who are exceptional enough to enter higher-level study in the UK, cutting the number of student visas has the potential to impact global reputation as well as economic growth.

With a question mark still hanging over the future of student visas, whether future policies tighten the reigns on international education or seek a more inclusive approach that strikes a balance between quality and quantity remains to be seen.

But one thing is for certain, with such a momentous year for the UK, the opportunity to exert global influence and attract big businesses (and big minds) has never been stronger.

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