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Business Secretary Vince Cable has urged business leaders to get behind a campaign to encourage more UK students to spend time studying or working in China to boost their career prospects and build stronger UK-China relations.
Mr Cable, who is currently on a week-long visit to China, said he had written to chief executives of leading companies asking them to support Generation UK, the British Council's flagship outward student mobility programme which aims to see 80,000 UK students studying or working in China by 2020.
The Confederation of British Industry has also called on its member companies to back Generation UK through its CEO initiative, which aims to build the next generation of British business talent through UK-China partnerships.
Mr Cable said: "The global centre of gravity is shifting eastwards to major economic powerhouses like China. But while China sends around 100,000 students each year to the UK, we send little more than 5,000 in the opposite direction - and that's two thirds more than we sent in 2010. By contrast, France sends over 8,000 students to China annually.
"We must raise our game. New independent research shows that a lack of language skills in the UK is costing our economy about £48 billion. The shortage of Mandarin speakers is part of the problem. I don't want young British people to get left behind.
"So today, I've written to a range of leading UK businesses urging them to get behind the British Council's Generation UK campaign. Participants in this programme will not only boost their own career prospects, but become ambassadors for UK-China relations on their return home."
Around 5,400 UK students studied in China last year. This number has grown by almost 65 per cent since 2010. The UK government believes it is fundamentally important that more young people from Britain have opportunities to gain greater exposure to, and understanding of China. Mr Cable said it will put them in a more competitive position in the job market internationally and at home, where they can capitalise on the growing trend of inward investment from China and the increasing number of Chinese tourists visiting the UK.
Generation UK encourages students to consider China as a destination for study or work by promoting the huge range of academic and professional opportunities available in China. It is also directly providing opportunities for UK young people to engage with China through academic scholarships and funding support for internships. This summer, it is anticipated that there will be over 200 places for internship and academic study in China directly through Generation UK. By supporting Generation UK through the programme's CEO Initiative, UK businesses will be directly involved in enabling UK young people to succeed in a globalised market.
John Cridland, Director General of the CBI said: "I was delighted to have been involved in the British Council's 'Generation UK' programme during the Prime Minister's China visit last December and the CBI is pleased to support the British Council's exciting new 'CEO Initiative' which is aimed at building the next generation of British talent through UK-China business partnerships. I hope that our member companies will also get involved in this worthy initiative."
Carma Elliot, Director of the British Council China said: "Generation UK creates incredible opportunities and access for young people in the UK to experience life in China's rapidly growing economy. By coming to China to work or study, UK students develop a global mind-set and gain international experience and skills that will enable them to thrive in a globally competitive labour market."
Louise Garrett-Evans is a Generation UK scholar currently studying Chinese language at Fudan University in Shanhai. She said: "It is my intention, whilst studying at Fudan University, to continue to explore China and further experience its culture and customs to enhance my awareness of the country in its many guises.
"My main reason for wanting to learn Chinese in China is the opportunity I hope will be created from this experience, such as career prospects and employment opportunities, travel and making new contacts. I've always aspired to work internationally and with China's growing influence, there is tremendous value in learning Chinese. It is my hope to work for an international organisation who will value what I have learned during my time here. The opportunity to continue to speak Chinese in my career is essential to me."
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