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South Asia cannot wait for the UK, British Council warns

UK higher education must reach out to South Asia or be left behind by its competitors, the British Council has warned.

The ‘build it and they will come’ ethos of the last few decades is no longer fit for purpose if the UK is serious about creating long term, sustainable and mutually beneficial education links with South Asia, Michelle Potts, the British Council’s Regional Director of Education in South Asia, will tell educations leaders gathered at a forum in London.

New research to be presented at the forum will show that the demographics of South Asia coupled with its geopolitical and financial limitations suggests that conventional models of higher education delivery and economics cannot meet the scale of the challenges faced by countries in the region.

“Replicating the current models of provision and building more universities cannot be the solution”, Ms Potts will tell delegates. “It now requires a much larger and collegiate approach from the UK and engagement at a systemic level to make even a dent in the numbers in South Asia.

“Large scale structural reform is required in areas of quality, leadership, skills and employability, and the UK ‘offer’ has to be elaborated and go beyond a reliance on student mobility, or the UK risks being left behind as competition from overseas hones in on the new educational frontier that is South Asia.”

The new research, commissioned by the British Council from the Economist Intelligence Unit, will recommend that innovation in service provision and equity of access to opportunity are now a prerequisite to make the connection between quality education, developing relevant skills and prosperous stable societies. International providers have a key role to play in these reforms, but with the mind-set that they now need to offer the full package and deliver good outcomes and not necessarily 'sell' degrees to ambitious wealthy students.

The London event, in partnership with the British Academy and SOAS, University of London is part of a series of British Council workshops that have been held across South Asia in 2013/14 bringing regional education leaders together with their UK counterparts to address the significant challenges in the region. For the first time, a representative of the Iranian Government will also be travelling to London, and speaking as a panellist at the event.

Ms Potts said: “With India’s successful Mars mission, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s relatively peaceful transitions of democratic government, and Malala’s Nobel peace prize for championing girls’ education, 2014 had many significant positives for South Asia.

“There are palpable signs for optimism and real breakthroughs which present huge opportunities for the region and globally. India, for example, has the world’s fourth-largest gross domestic product (GDP), yet dedicates just one per cent of its GDP to research and development. Imagine what could be achieved by just doubling this and the role that UK world class research intensive universities can play and benefit from in this endeavour.”

Mattiaath 123RF
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