For the first time, StudyWorld featured major welcome and keynote speeches, with different perspectives on international education. And such positive messages about international education helped create the event’s dynamic mood.
“What you all do for our country is brilliant”
Cobra Beer founder and president of student organisation UKCISA Lord Karan Bilimoria recalled his personal experiences of international education, journalist-turned-university chancellor Gavin Esler spoke of education’s role in countering extremism, and trade minister Mark Garnier talked of the demand for UK education, and government support for this.
“What you all do for our country is brilliant,” Lord Bilimoria told delegates at the Welcome Reception, describing how he was himself a third-generation international student when he came from India to study in the UK.
Talking about the standing of UK universities, and the number of world leaders educated in them, he said: “A recent report said that more world leaders came out of British universities than any other country in the world. What more powerful soft power can anybody ask for? It’s an absolute phenomenon.”
He hoped, that the British government would “talk properly” about taking students out of the net migration figures now that official research had shown that 97 per cent returned home on time, and praised the UK’s Education is GREAT campaign. “It’s genuinely great: hats off to the British government.”
“We can transform other people’s lives”
Further thoughtful words about the value of international education came on Tuesday at the event’s first-ever keynote speech and panel discussion, led by Gavin Esler, former BBC journalist and now chancellor of the University of Kent.
In a wide-ranging and passionate speech, Esler talked of living in times where the world faces great problems which would benefit from an international approach – but nationalism is on the rise and facts themselves under attack.
“As experts and educators, we need to understand more about this problem and unpredictability: we need to focus on the huge opportunities and most importantly to educate young people to lead positive and productive lives,” he said, describing some current trends as “a reversal of the Enlightenment.”
He said education institutions were still trusted, which was a real opportunity as nobody could predict the next shock. “We can use that education institutions are still among the most trusted institutions to emphasise our needs for openness and try to close the trust gap,” he said, adding that there were “three pillars of trust – benevolence, integrity and competence – some certainty in an uncertain world.”
Educators needed to connect their values and expertise – as they had with former US President Bill Clinton when he was an international student – with young people from all over the world. They wanted to make money and have power, but be proud of what they did, with some sense of public purpose, he said, concluding: “We need to be passionate about education as a leg-up. We are not part of an ivory tower, we can transform other people’s lives. We have to think about what kind of world we would like to live in: I hope we’ll be educating people to make the best of it, ending in enlightenment. Science, culture and education: we have to do it because there are no alternative facts, just facts.”
“Education transcends geography, language and political persuasion”
Trade Minister Mark Garnier was also positive about what UK education had to offer the world, talking about the pleasure of being amongst like-minded people who believe that a better world starts with a good education. “Education transcends geography, language and political persuasion; it breaks barriers and creates curiosity. It brings people together: just like this audience. Its importance should not be understated, nor should it be confined solely to syllabi and test scores,” he said.
He said that it was not a coincidence that StudyWorld had attracted such a global audience: they had come because of the reputation of the “British schooling system – one of rigour, exacting standards and worldwide recognition.” He promised to build on the UK’s “already impressive capability in overseas education provision” and said for the first time in years it had a dedicated trade department to help education providers access new markets more simply and quickly than ever before. “There is, quite simply, an unprecedented level of support for UK providers to help seize the huge opportunity on offer for transnational education,” he said.
He concluded: “I mentioned earlier the reach of education beyond classrooms; it is quite simply one of the greatest gifts we can bestow and the most important investment we can make. Conferences such as StudyWorld allow us to come together to champion the importance of education in creating a more stable, fair and prosperous world. There’s no greater prize than that.”