Saranjit Sangar, EMEA CEO at upGrad

The UK’s international student population is on the brink of crisis.

The number of students from major ‘source’ countries has declined, falling by up to 26% since 2011/12. This long-term trend can be attributed to the ever-increasing number of challenges from Brexit, right through to an increase in alternative education credentials.  

Any decline in student numbers is a concern, but even more so as we face the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the detrimental impact this is likely to have on the number of international students coming to the UK in 2021 and beyond.

There is no question as to the economic and societal benefits that international students afford the UK. At upGrad we see first-hand the contribution made by international students all over the world, from funding life-changing research to providing skilled labour in areas such as fintech, data science, IT, AI, machine learning and robotics.

With such skills severely lacking in the UK, finding a solution that will help institutions to maintain, and even attract, more students worldwide is nothing short of critical.

A post-pandemic shift that will create the new normal

We know there is always going to be a place for bricks and mortar learning, but the seismic change to ‘learning from home’, teamed with health and safety concerns from students moving back to campus, has put a new emphasis on blended learning.

While this has forced a very quick and needs-driven digital transformation for higher education institutions in many cases, it will not be enough to help international students overcome the many barriers preventing their migration to the UK.

The answer lies in hybrid learning and the creation of a new, ultra-personalised model of teaching. Such a model draws on latest advancements in AI, AR/VR, machine learning and big data. But importantly, it’s interspersed with real human connection, 1-2-1 coaching and peer-peer mentoring.

This will ensure that any student – regardless of whether they are studying in a blended format from the UK or wholly online from another country – will be empowered to reach the same outcome.

From outcome to income

Embracing such a model has both economic and strategic benefits. Not only will UK universities reap significant financial remunerations from partnering with online education providers and a broader international student base, but it will help to market an institution globally – building a positive perception of UK higher education on the world stage.

This is especially critical in ‘source’ nations such as China, who already provide the largest proportion of international students in the UK, and India, where the number of students coming to the UK is in decline.

Worldwide growth is central to helping the UK regain its competitive advantage from nations including Australia, New Zealand and Canada who have been more active in the recruitment of international students in recent years.

While the task may feel monumental for universities juggling conflicting priorities and squeezed budgets, the opportunity for partnership and collaboration across the industry can open doors for institutions all over the world.

Averting crisis though partnership

Brokering mutually beneficial partnerships will help universities attract talent and export education in geographies where there is high demand.

To take one example, at upGrad we work in close partnership with Liverpool John Moores University to provide industry-focussed programmes which directly address the needs of local, national and international employers.

The postgraduate programmes, which include MSc Machine Learning and AI, MSc Data Science, MSc Computer Science and MSc Big Data, help the institution to target the growing IT and Data Science Sector within India, where upGrad is the largest online education provider.

The combination of high-quality education and hybrid learning makes this an attractive option for international students, with upGrad graduates enjoying excellent academic success, significant career progression opportunities and an average 52% salary increase. It also offers Liverpool John Moores a lucrative new revenue stream which delivers millions in additional revenue each year.

While hybrid learning won’t remove every barrier, it will provide UK universities with a platform to quickly and effectively adjust to this new normal. This will naturally result in more international students studying in UK-based institutions, helping to avert a national higher education crisis that will take decades to reverse.

Saranjit Sangar, EMEA CEO at upGrad

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