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Prime Minister launches drive to attract more international students

18 June 1999

The Prime Minister today announced the start of a world-wide campaign to promote British universities and colleges overseas, and to attract more international students to the UK.

Launching the campaign at the London School of Economics in London today, Mr Blair said:

'Our universities and colleges are second to none. Their world-class reputation means that they are among the most popular for international students. I am determined to build on this great strength with a long term strategy to attract many more. The institutions, their students and our economy will reap considerable rewards.
'When the G8 leaders meet this weekend, we expect to agree a charter on our ambitions for lifelong learning. We all want to equip our countries for the knowledge-driven society of the next century, and to share our educational strengths with the rest of the world. One of the most important contributions we can make is to ensure that our universities and colleges are open to able students from around the world.'

The targets are a significant increase in the UK's share of the fee-paying market for international students in English-speaking countries. UK universities, already second only to US universities, aim to increase their market share to twenty-five per cent by 2005 - an extra 50,000 students. Further education colleges are aiming to double the number of international students by 2005 - an extra 25,000 students.

Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett, said:

'This campaign will be good for UK as well as overseas students. UK universities and colleges will develop an even more international outlook. The students will be more employable as a result. They will have more opportunities to work alongside top students and researchers from overseas. And our universities and colleges will earn more revenue for expansion.'

In a UK-wide Departmental effort, a package of changes has been agreed to remove unnecessary delay to international students applying for study in the UK. It includes:

  • Streamlining visa arrangements for students in countries where there are problems.

  • Reducing the need for international students to reapply for leave to remain in the UK whilst studying.

  • Putting better information in the hands of potential students, on-screen and through personal advice.

  • Making it easier for students to combine study with work on campus and in vacations.

The British Council will lead a three year global marketing campaign, starting in January 2000 in key countries around the world. Funded with around GBP 5m from Government, the marketing strategy will brand British education as the first for quality and choice.

Baroness Helena Kennedy, the Chairman of the British Council, said:

'We want to support the efforts of British universities and colleges to market themselves professionally with an image and standards of service which reflect our high standards.'

Mr Blair also announced that the prestige Chevening Scholarship Scheme would be expanded. Currently supporting 2,200 students, the aim is to offer an extra 500 scholarships, with funding from government, universities and business.

Welcoming the announcement, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said:

'Many political, business and intellectual leaders of the world have long term ties with the UK because of their experience of British higher education. The Chevening scholarships are a crucial way of building relationships with the next generations of leaders.'


1. The purpose of the British Council is to enhance the reputation of the United Kingdom in the world as a valued partner. It works in the areas of the Arts, Education, English Language Teaching, Science & Technology, Information and Good Governance to build long term relations with people and institutions in other countries. The British Council has offices in 109 countries a staff of 6,000 and an annual turnover of GBP 412 million. The Education Counselling Service (ECS) works with the British Council's overseas offices and UK education and training providers to increase the UK's share of the international education and training market. The ECS, will manage the development of a UK Education Brand. In doing so the ECS will work not only with its subscribing members but with all UK further and higher education institutions and other organisations such as the English language colleges.

2. The next steps in the strategy are:

June / July 1999 Changes to visa, work and entry requirements
Universities and colleges informed
June to October 1999 'UK Education Brand' developed in consultation with universities and colleges
October 1999 Recruitment opens for Chevening scholars to study from October 2000
End of 1999 Production of brand toolkit of materials and resources
Start of 2000 Launch of marketing campaign worldwide

3. Background notes

A. Targets and student statistics


Aspirational targets have been set for the higher and further education sectors:

  • For higher education, to increase the market share in relation to the major competitors of USA, Australia and Canada from seventeen per cent in 1996 / 97 to twenty-five per cent by 2005 (up to 50,000 additional students worth GBP 500m per annum in new export earnings)

  • For the further education sector, to increase the number of international students by 100 per cent from about 25,000 in 1996 / 97 to 50,000 by 2005 (25,000 additional students worth GBP 200m per annum in new export earnings)

Student statistics

In 1996 / 1997, there were 271,000 international students in British Education. 198,000 (seventy-three per cent) in higher education, 57,000 (twenty-one per cent) in further education and 16,000 (six per cent) in Independent Schools.

Of the 271,000 students, forty-five per cent came from European Union Countries and fifty-five per cent came from over 100 other countries.

In the ten year period from 1987 / 88 to 1996 / 97, full-time international students in British Further and Higher Education have increased from 67,500 to 174,600 (159 per cent).

In the last three to four years for which data is available on international students in British Education:

  • The number of student visas issued has risen by 11.5 per cent.
  • The numbers in Further Education have risen by thirty per cent.
  • The numbers in Higher Education have risen by twenty-seven per cent.
  • The numbers entering Independent Schools have risen by twelve per cent.

In competing for full-fee paying international students Britain's main anglophone competitors are the USA, Australia and Canada. In 1996 / 97 there were 602,000 international students in Higher Education in the four anglophone countries:

  • Six per cent were from Non-EU Europe.
  • Seven per cent were from the Middle East.
  • Seven per cent were from Africa.
  • Nine per cent were from South Asia.
  • Fifty-six per cent were from East Asia / Pacific.
  • Sixteen per cent were from the Americas.
  • The UK had a seventeen per cent share of this market compared to the USA at sixty-eight per cent, Australia at ten per cent and Canada at five per cent.
  • In addition, 151,000 EU students studied in higher education in these four countries in 1996 / 97. Sixty-three per cent studied in the UK, thirty-two per cent in the USA, one per cent in Australia and four per cent in Canada.

In 1996 / 97, international students in British Education from outside the EU accounted for fifty-six per cent of international students in British Higher Education, forty-four per cent in Further Education and an estimated eighty per cent in Independent Schools.

(Data sources: DFEE, Home Office, HESA, FEFC's, ISIS, AIEF, Open Doors)

B. Marketing campaign

The British Council's Educational Counselling Service is developing a brand for the marketing of UK Education overseas. The overall aim is to provide a competitive edge for the UK product within an increasingly crowded market place. The task is to ensure that the UK Educational product is an even more attractive product to international students considering study abroad.

The British Council have selected McCann Erickson Manchester, the world's largest advertising agency, as their professional partner to develop the brand. The research phase will involve UK institutions, British Council offices overseas and students studying in the UK, US and Australia. It will seek to explore the attitudes, motivations and experiences of students who choose to study overseas together with the problems and opportunities that are faced by the UK institutions seeking to attract those students. The end result will provide a platform for the development and evaluation of the brand work.

The UK Brand will be designed to represent the UK's further and higher education sectors, but will also be appropriate for English language colleges and private schools. The brand will provide an umbrella under which all educational institutions can market themselves and their products more effectively. Part of the challenge will be to create a brand that reflects the diversity of the UK education and the courses on offer.

The UK Brand will appeal to individuals' highest aspirations and potential for achievement and reflect the emotional and inspirational attractions of Britain. It will attract potential students who have the means to seek an international education and the ability to benefit from the quality and opportunities offered by UK institutions.

The UK Brand and the associated generic materials will be key marketing tools for universities and colleges and will underpin their international recruitment activity. It will provide consistency, maximise appeal and provide the most powerful differentiation from the competition.

C. Chevening scholarships

British Chevening Scholarships are prestigious awards which enable overseas students to study in the UK. They are on offer in more than 150 countries, and enable tomorrow's leaders, decision makers and opinion formers from overseas to become familiar with the UK and British values, and to make contacts with British institutions and companies which can continue throughout their careers.

The Chevening programme currently provides more than 2,200 new scholarships each year for postgraduate study or research at UK higher education institutions. Most Chevening Scholarships are for one year Master's courses or equivalent, but some are for shorter specialised courses lasting for three to six months. A feature of the programme is the shared funding arrangement with British and foreign firms, universities, the Churches, trusts, grant giving foundations, and other appropriate organisations. The FCO will contribute GBP 29 million to the cost of the programme in FY 1999 / 2000. Another GBP 7 million will come from co-sponsors.

Candidates for British Chevening Scholarships are selected by British Diplomatic Missions overseas. The scholarships are administered overseas and in the UK by the British Council on behalf of the FCO.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Scholarships and awards (FCOSAS) programme was established in 1983. Its name was changed in 1994. The Scholarships were named after Chevening House, the Foreign Secretary's official country residence in Kent.

D. Visa / entry rules / work rules

The Government is streamlining processes for overseas students at four critical points:

  • Visas, in countries where a visa is required for travel to the UK.
  • Leave to enter and remain, when students first arrive in the UK.
  • Permission to work, for students who want to combine study with work.
  • Better information for the student thinking of coming to the UK.

These changes will be monitored throughout the initiative, to allow more streamlining where necessary.


In countries where visas for students have proved difficult to administer easily, a new partnership is being developed between visa offices and the British Council's Education Counselling Service. The British Council will give students guidance on entry clearance requirements and will help them fill in the visa forms, and where needed will act as go-between with the visa office. The visa offices are then able to process visas for bona fide students faster, often without having to interview the student. The partnership is now operating successfully in India and is being launched in China. The aim is to set up this partnership in countries with significant education market potential with the highest rate of student visa application rejections.

The FCO has set a service target for visa offices, to turn round straightforward applications within 24 hours, and less straightforward applications in no more than ten working days.

New guidance to all visa offices is being issued on the key factors which cause problems for students applying for visas.

Leave to enter and remain

Everyone who enters the UK needs leave to enter and remain from Home Office immigration officers, whether they come from visa or non-visa countries. International students have experienced problems when they are granted leave to enter and remain for less then the length of their course, and need to apply for extensions. The Home Office has made two changes:

  • Immigration officers have been instructed to give leave to enter and remain for students for the full length of their course, unless there are specific reasons to give leave to enter and remain for a shorter time.

  • The Home Office has improved the turn round time of applications from international students for extensions to stay, to two weeks with the aim of faster turnaround times soon.


International students can work up to twenty hours a week in term time and full time in vacations. There are restrictions on the type of work they can do, and there is a test which requires overseas students to get permission from the local Jobcentre. The Government is making three changes:

  • International students will no longer need clearance from a Jobcentre before taking vacation or out-of-study work. The old rule has become largely inactive (around six per cent refusals per year), and an unnecessary hurdle for students. The type of work they may do remains unchanged.

  • Sandwich course students from overseas, who currently require a work permit for their work placements, will no longer need a work permit.

  • International students will be able to take part-time work organised and in the gift of the UK university or college where they are coming to study (if it is a publicly funded institution). The student's prospective earnings in this type of job can be taken into account when they apply for leave to enter and remain in the UK, unlike most students who must show that they can support themselves without taking work. This is particularly aimed at research students.

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