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The Prime Minister's Initiative

The Prime Minister's initiative to attract more international students to the UK: A Summary of Activities


The Prime Minister launched an initiative to recruit more international students at the LSE in June 1999. It proposed that:
  • Those who experience UK education and training tend to become life-long friends of the UK. Huge political, trade and economic benefit over the long term might therefore be gained by maximising the numbers and ensuring the quality of individual experiences.
  • More international students should be given the opportunity to benefit from a high quality and affordable education in the UK
  • Education and Training is a very large global market for the UK. In addition to the immediate economic benefits, UK institutions gain in many other ways through extending their international outlook and welcoming talented students who make an important contribution to the UK’s research effort.
  • Many factors influence international student choice. Any initiative to attract more young people to UK for study purposes must be multi-faceted.
This strategic vision led to recommendations for immediate action. The DfEE took the lead. A prime objective of increasing international student numbers by 50,000 in Higher Education and 25,000 in Further Education by 2005 - over the base year of 1996/97 - was agreed.

The initial focus has been on four areas:

  • To develop a brand, a global marketing strategy and a 3-year promotion campaign for UK education and training
  • To expand the Chevening scholarship programme by up to 1000 additional awards each year
  • To make visa and entry arrangements more user friendly for students
  • To ease restrictions on international students working in the UK.
The Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) through a high-level Steering Group and a Project Working Group manages the initiative; the latter oversees the detailed planning and implementation. The other Departments involved are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, The Ministry of Defence, Trade Partners UK, the Home Office, and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition there is representation by the British Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Universities UK, the Association of Colleges, the Department of Trade and Industry's Competitiveness Unit, the Council for International Education (UKCOSA), the National Academic Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC), the Joint Entry Clearance Unit, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the Independent Schools Council, British Association of State English Language Teaching (BASELT), Association of Recognised English Language Services (ARELS), certain Further and Higher Institutes of Education and the DTI/DfEE’s Education and Training Export Group.

The initiative has a website (aimed at students) at www.educationUK.org

Main Activities within the Initiative

  1. Developing the Brand and Overseas Marketing Campaigns

    The UK Education brand was developed in 1999-2000 and launched by Baroness Blackstone at King’s College, London in January 2000 and the Scottish variation of the Brand logo by Henry McLeish in Scotland in February 2000.

    The brand and marketing campaign are managed directly by the British Council through a contract with a funding group of Government Departments and Devolved Administrations. It is enhanced by significant resources from the British Council and complements other activities financed through the Education Counselling Service. This work has been enhanced by regular consultation with individual institutions and sector bodies. The following activities have been undertaken so far:

    • Research in USA, UK and Australia into international student perceptions of study in these three main provider countries, led to a new "brand footprint" for the UK. Core materials and the Education@UK campaign were developed and launched globally. www.britishcouncil.org/ecs/brand/report199909/index.htm
    • Markets have been prioritised with 8 countries identified as priority 1 (Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, and Singapore) and 21 as priority 2 (Australia, Brunei, Cyprus, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, USA, and Vietnam). The totality of activities can be summarised:
      • Individual country marketing campaigns - all priority countries ran high profile market launches during the first year of the campaign
      • Government Ministers have carefully articulated the UK Education brand messages on the benefits of UK education and training during visits to priority and other countries
      • Extension of BC outreach services overseas eg through the greater use of agents
      • Wide range of fully branded promotional materials are being produced and tailored to individual country markets
      • Promoting greater use of the Virtual Campus
      • Work towards development of a system for e-recruitment
      • Education and training exhibitions
      • Provision of in-country student counselling
      • Enhancing alumni networks - including initiating contacts whilst still in UK
      • Improving accessibility to UK education institutions eg through access/foundation programmes

    In addition to the above British Council offices overseas have staged many promotional activities (eg film, exhibitions, advertising, articles in media, music performances etc) to reinforce the marketing messages associated with the PMI. The Brand licence is now available to all accredited UK institutions:

  2. Chevening Scholarships

    The target is to expand the FCO’s Chevening scholarship programme by up to 1000 additional awards each year with an emphasis on priority countries. This is being done in partnership with:

    • Government Departments and Devolved Administrations through funding contributions
    • the Universities, who have all agreed part-scholarships
    • the business sector from whom contributions are being solicited towards specific country and sector programmes
    Other initiatives include the enhancement of follow-up databases and networking with returned scholars.

  3. Visas and Entry to the UK

    Visas and entry to the UK are a critical area. In terms of perceptions, research has shown that the UK scores lower than most of its competitors in this area (see brand report website above). In order to make the service more user-friendly, the initiative has concentrated on:

    • Raising awareness about student visas among visa officers; closer co-operation between staff in visa sections and the British Council overseas; and direct communication between the Joint Entry Clearance Unit (JECU) and schools and colleges in the UK
    • The development and global distribution of the "First Steps" briefing materials for students, education agents, UK institutions and other relevant parties
    • Student Visas now grant leave to enter the UK. Students coming for a full academic year are usually granted leave to enter until October 31 of the year that their course finishes. Visas are valid for multiple journeys, allowing unlimited travel in and out of the UK during their period of validity.
    • Provision of up-to-date online information for students on visas www.fco.gov.uk/travel/download.asp and immigration www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/default.asp?pageID=107

  4. The Student’s Right to Work

    The UK has generally been perceived as poor in relation to allowing students to work both during and immediately on completion of their studies. Significant progress has now been made:

    • An immediate announcement was that students could work up to 20 hours during term time and full time during vacations without requiring approval on an individual basis. This came into effect on 21 June 1999 and has been widely communicated to students, prospective students, institutions and employers. A DfEE leaflet on this was published in March 2001.
    • There are increased opportunities for spouses to work in the UK: those here for less than a year are now allowed to work so long as their student spouse has been granted leave to stay for 12 months or more.
    • The current Training and Work Experience Scheme (TWES) is under review, and various changes of the rules to allow wider opportunities for practical attachments are under consideration. www.workpermits.gov.uk/guidance/training/
      Graduates can now apply for work permits without having had previous work experience, across a wider range of work areas, and without being tested against the local labour market in skills shortage areas. www.dfee.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2000_0416
    • The DTI have announced a Global Enterprise Scholarship to encourage talented young people to study in the UK and remain to set up businesses, which will be run by Trade PartnersUK. www.dfee.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2001_0085

Results to Date

For the academic year 1999/2000 we can report a positive movement towards achieving our 2005 targets - in spite of a large decrease in one market, Malaysia, following the economic crisis in Asia in 1998. Non-EU enrolment in HE is up approximately 10,000 on the base year ie an increase of almost 10% over a three year period. For FE the 98/99 data shows that an extra 3,800 students are studying in the UK (up 14% on the base year over a two year period).

The total number of accepted applicants for undergraduate higher education in the UK by non-EU students has increased by 6.1% in the 12 months to autumn 2000.

In addition, recent independent research in the Asian market has indicated that there has already been an improvement in positive perceptions of the UK as a study destination.

Further and Parallel Initiatives

The PMI has provided a successful means to focus the attention of several government departments and other interested groups. This has resulted in new ideas developing that have directly enhanced the overall objectives. In addition it has been necessary to respond flexibly to changing situations around the world, including significant competitor responses to the initiative. Specific new activities are mentioned below.
  1. Higher Education

    The broadest range of initiatives to date has come from the HE sector. In addition to the programmes mentioned here, under the aegis of the PMI many institutions have been redefining their approach to overseas markets. Clearer strategic planning is evolving. Activities have included:

    • The ‘Gilligan Report’ (which covered both FE and HE) and the ‘Framework for Excellence’ identified weaknesses in the marketing of the UK, set criteria and indicated how institutions might improve international strategies. A recent UniversitiesUK study reported that Universities had introduced change following the reports.
    • Establishing a route to a PhD involving taught components. This project, under the direction of Professor Clive Booth, is a collaboration between HEFCE, several universities and the British Council in response to the need, in some key markets, for an approach to PhD study with more built-in structured learning.
    • The development of the HERO website that provides an accurate, and informative database of links to all the key HE websites on the Internet. www.hero.ac.uk

  2. Further Education

    Further education is critical to the success of the initiative. Some 70% of international students in FE colleges are studying programmes that lead to higher education. Very close collaboration between the sectors towards developing and marketing combined packages is crucial. Our competitors are organised better in this respect. The FE has seen great success with a 14% increase in international student numbers. A forum has been established to develop a more detailed strategy for the FE sector and recent reports have suggested new initiatives.

  3. Private Schools and Training Institutions:

    The involvement of private schools and training institutions is essential as most international students who undertake private schooling and training in the UK progress to further education in the UK, often at degree level. The British Council is collaborating with the sector to develop an overall strategy with support services.

  4. UK Professional Qualifications and Examinations:

    Some 2 million UK examinations are taken overseas, and this is growing at 10% pa.

  5. English Language:

    The study of the English Language through delivery in the UK or overseas is critical to the strategy. Most students require EL as part of their overall study programme. The British Council, working with ARELS, BASELT, and the British Tourist Authority, has developed an accreditation package (EIBA).

  6. Distance Learning and in-country delivery:

    The overseas delivery of education and training by distance learning, franchising and licensing arrangements etc is a major and growing market for the UK. Figures for this sector are unavailable, but estimates suggest that over 200,000 overseas-based students follow UK programmes. The PMI is looking at how to work with providers to develop a strategy to promote overseas delivery on a UK basis and for all sectors.

  7. Enhancing the Global Education and Training Information Service (GETIS)

    With the growth of competition and segmentation of the markets for international education and training, the need to improve market analysis and information becomes even more pressing. The main means of keeping UK institutions informed is via GETIS. The British Council plans to enhance this service significantly.

This paper was prepared by the British Council in collaboration with the Project Working Group as a briefing paper for those needing a quick introduction to the initiative.

March 2001

  Produced in United Kingdom by The British Council © 2002. The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational and cultural relations. Registered in England as a Charity.