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Financial Times: Initiative to expand university links gets £27m lift

Initiative to expand university links gets £27m liftBy Miranda Green,Political Correspondent
Published: April 19 2006 03:00 | Last updated: April 19 2006 03:00

A fresh drive to build links with overseas universities was launched yesterday with £27m of funding from the government, the British Council and businesses.

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BP, BAE systems, GlaxoSmithKline and Shell have each contributed £1m to the second wave of the prime minister's initiative for international education, which aims to bring another 100,000 students to the UK and build partnerships between universities here and abroad.

A 1999-2005 recruitment programme exceeded its targets with an extra 106,000 overseas students attracted to studying in the UK.

The international market in degrees has exploded in recent years, with English-speaking countries a big beneficiary of increased student mobility and a willingness to pay high fees for undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Foreign students bring an estimated £5bn a year into the economy and their fees, unlike those of EU students, are unregulated and have become crucial to the overstretched finances of universities in the UK.

But as the markethas become more competitive, vice-chancellors andthe British Council, which promoted UK education abroad, have appealed for more support from the government.

Prof Drummond Bone, vice-chancellor of Liverpool University and president of the Universities UK umbrella group, said higher education exports could be worth £20bn by 2020.

“This is timely . . . because our competitors are stepping up their activities,” he said. “Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands have all recently announced four-year initiatives worth, respectively, £48.6m, £27.3m and £69m. The only way we will stay ahead is through clear strategic thinking on our international engagement.”

The companies listed as sponsors, along with Tata Group of India, are supporting a £7.5m programme for academic and student exchanges and research collaboration between British and Indian institutions.

The government is pushing universities to be more responsive to the demand for varied degrees from British undergraduates as well.

Bill Rammell, higher education minister, said yesterday he wanted to introduce a US-style system of credits to enable some students to compress traditional three-year honours degrees into less time so they could limit their debt levels. From autumn, undergraduates, other than those from poor homes, will be charged £3,000 a year in tuition fees.

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