UK: Creating global citizens ‘is back’ for higher education

UK/June 19, 2021/By: Nic Mitchell /Source:

As international higher education staggers in the post-pandemic world, the key message from university leaders at this year’s British Council Going Global conference is that the tide is starting to turn away from the narrow nationalism of the Trump era and the Brexit referendum.

In this spirit, UK Universities Minister Michelle Donelan took a deep breath for her video recording played at the opening plenary session of the virtual British Council three-day event on 15 June, which had the theme of “reimaging international tertiary education for a post-pandemic world”.

After telling her international audience that the United Kingdom had taken a leading role in the COVID-19 global health response, including championing COVAX and contributing £548 million (US$762 million) to its advance market commitment to help supply one billion vaccine doses for up to 92 of the most vulnerable countries, Donelan said: “We simply cannot solve the world’s current problems with past solutions, and we need to work globally if we are to make real progress.”

She highlighted the vital role played by international education partnerships throughout the crisis, with research “conducted across subjects, borders and continents”, adding that scientific expertise helped global understanding of the coronavirus disease.

“This pandemic has brought home the value of these partnerships and now is the time to build on existing foundations and interconnectedness,” she said.

Despite the uncertainties that still exist, the minister said the shape of higher education has been changed irreversibly, with providers around the world delivering “fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online and blended learning”.

Donelan told conference delegates: “The UK government took early action to offer learning flexibility to ensure international students were, wherever possible, able to take up and continue their education undisrupted.

“From comprehensive visa concessions, to ensuring international students have access to additional hardship and mental health support; we have taken our moral duty to support international students seriously, and we hope that introducing these measures will demonstrate our commitment to incoming international students.”

Make the UK as attractive as possible

Looking to future, the minister said the UK was determined to make the country “as attractive as possible to international students, who will always be valued for the contribution that they make to our society, the ideas they bring, and the culture they share with us”, citing the graduate immigration route being launched this year as example.

This will allow international students to apply for a visa to remain in the UK for up to two or three years to look for work “at any skill level”.

Donelan also saw the acceleration of digital and blended forms of online learning as having great potential for developing pioneering models of transnational education provision around the world for students who choose to access UK education from their home country.

The UK universities minister claimed all this showed that “we remain committed to our aspirations to be an internationally minded, truly Global Britain”, with education having “a pivotal role in developing this ambition”.

This wasn’t limited to simply “sustainably” recruiting more international students to come to the UK to study, with a target set of “at least 600,000” by 2030, but also by encouraging “our own young people to become truly global citizens, too”.

And so, without so much as a glance back to the European Union’s Erasmus+ mobility scheme that the UK has decided to leave as part of getting Brexit done and dusted at the start of this year, Donelan thanked UK universities, colleges and schools – and international government organisations and institutions – for their “positive engagement” with the UK’s replacement Turing outbound mobility programme.

Donelan said the UK scheme, named after the British scientist Alan Turing, who studied abroad at Princeton University in the United States, would provide funding of £110 million (US$153 million) for “around 35,000 students” to go on placements and exchanges across the world in the upcoming academic year.

She claimed the scheme would support the UK government’s “levelling up across the entire UK” and had been designed so that “no young person should be excluded from expanding their horizons because of their family’s income or other disadvantages”.

Among the ways the Turing scheme hopes to achieve that goal is by offering short-term four-week higher education programmes “which were not previously available” to ensure students with caring responsibilities would not be left out.

Donelan described Turing as representing “a landmark step in achieving our vision of a truly Global Britain” and said it had won support internationally from as far afield as the US and Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, India and throughout the Commonwealth.

Without providing actual numbers, the minister said she was delighted that it had received “a strong number of applications” for the coming year and expressed her gratitude to the British Council for promoting the new outbound mobility programme from the UK to international partners.

She finished her video address by saying: “Despite the impact and uncertainty we have all seen from COVID-19, I am proud to say that our collective, global efforts are supporting a new generation of young people to access and enjoy life-changing international experiences wherever they study.

“In doing so, we are changing the shape of tertiary education around the globe, informed by innovative partnerships, collaboration and learning from others.”

The minister’s speech was welcomed by many delegates, with Times Higher Education Chief Knowledge Officer Phil Baty tweeting: “Universities minister @michelledonelan talks pointedly of the importance of ‘developing global citizens’ at #GoingGlobal2021 – a welcome departure from May’s ‘citizens of nowhere’ nastiness.”

In a conference session he chaired later in the day, Baty said the speech represented a welcome change from the more nationalistic tone of former UK prime minister Theresa May, adding: “It is nice to recognise the importance of individual students, the future leaders, being truly global in their outlook.”

Professor Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool and a champion of UK international higher education, said she was “happy that the global citizen is back” adding that if Turing fulfilled its goals, that would be “really, really fantastic”.

Nic Mitchell is a freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European higher education. He runs De la Cour Communications and blogs at

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Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.

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UK: Creating global citizens ‘is back’ for higher education – Sarraute Educación María Magdalena

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