The changing nature of higher education across the developed world now means that universities are increasingly operating in a global market. This aspect covers many areas, including the collaboration between researchers across borders, the links universities seek to establish with outside industry, and the continued need to attract international students, especially from Asia. With the forthcoming political changes in Britain, it could be argued that developing a coherent strategy for operating in a global market is now more important than ever before. Indeed, the changing political climate at home, together with the evolving international geopolitical conditions brought about through globalization have brought their own unique challenges. Below are some suggestions on how British universities can adapt to cope with these growing challenges in an increasingly competitive 21st century market.
Each university needs to identify what they would like to achieve in an international market. Is it to attract collaboration with other researchers in order to maximise research impact? Is it to increase the number of international students as a means of increasing income and diversity? Is it a combination of these two factors and/or many others? Whatever the goal, a coherent strategy needs to be developed, and an understanding that each country that you aim to foster links with needs to be approached and treated in different ways. Thus, an understanding of cultural differences is key. For specific deals reached with individual universities, whether it is a Memorandum of Understanding, or a wider agreement concerning the sharing of research resources, deals need to be made on the basis of mutual benefit if they stand the best chance of success.
Recruitment strategy for students
For universities seeking to increase and attract a larger international student body, a very effective method is to visit recruitment fares in the country you are targeting. By pre-arranging a series of lectures, seminars and workshops, this will provide the opportunity for prospective students to speak with officials from your university and to get information at first-hand, rather than through a website. It will help to create a more personal connection with your target audience and provide a chance for your course to be showcased.
Additionally, in many countries where English is not the first language, several agencies work to assist students with their university applications. If you seek to establish some connection with these agencies, it can help to ensure the courses at your university are getting greater visibility. Preparing a detailed prospectus for international students, outlining in particular how your university will help the transition from their home country to their new home will be particularly helpful, since many students are normally very concerned about issues such as housing, and setting up aspects that are crucial to their daily life, such as a bank account.
Another area that some universities have explored is the possibility of running, through a memorandum of understanding, a course that provides students with the opportunity to study for a period of time in their home country, and then study in the UK. These programmes are typically offered at postgraduate level, primarily for masters’ students, on a 2-year basis. These programmes are already operational between some British and Chinese universities. However, there is a scope for further development, and this is an area of future growth. In this way, universities can avoid the expense of setting up satellite campuses in other countries (some of which have not been profitable) and focus on deepening collaboration with other universities in the process.
Understanding international students’ needs
When international students leave their home country to study in the UK, they are entering a completely different culture. This will take them time to adjust. Moreover, the learning style in a UK university is likely to be very different, particularly if students are coming from Asia. In China for example, all students study many courses and are typically assigned a textbook for the course. There are a lot of teaching hours and contact time with their lecturer. In the UK, particularly for students in the humanities, there is a tendency for the focus to be more on independent study. This will require a big adjustment on their part. Moreover, they will be operating in their second language, confidence is a major issue when speaking a language that is not their native tongue. In this respect, while it would not be wise to advocate preferential treatment for these students, understanding their need for adjustment, and developing a strategy to accommodate them could help the transition and also encourage more students to apply in the future.
Strategic use of technology and the growth of online education
For universities to succeed in the future, an investment in technology is crucial. Not only does this mean a well-designed website that is easy to navigate, but also diversification in the way technology is used to maximise service and options for students. For example, the growth of online education could provide a very useful tool with which the university could embrace an international audience in a very inclusive way. The growth of distance learning postgraduate programmes is one such example, where courses are taught online, and then a meeting is scheduled once a year in the country from which the students have enrolled. While this seems difficult logistically, the cost of running the majority of the course online does cut down on operational costs, and also helps the university reach a wider market. These options are already being used by some American universities in countries such as China and South Korea.
University education, and the services provided for both students and the research community is becoming more competitive. In order to meet the challenges of the future, it is vital that preparations are made now. Furthermore, a willingness to adapt to the changes of the time will be key to ensure visibility can be maintained in what is likely to become a crowded market.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SearchHigher or Warwick Employment Group.