A passage to Britain from India

“I am saddened by the ‘go away’ message that seems to be writ large in the perception sphere of those Indian students and their parents who once considered studying in the UK but won’t any longer”

Sonal Minocha, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Global Engagement at Bournemouth University, writes about falling interest among Indian students in studying in Britain, how to address it, and the power of Education Brand Britain.

Following a customary break in India over Christmas I am ready to start the New Year with New Ideas. The PIE is the perfect forum for that!

So why India? Well, ’tis the only way to escape stuffing my mouth with Christmas cake and mince pies and red wine for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between – life of a PVC! And India is where family is as well for me – so instead Christmas is all about lots of dhals, currys, chicken tikkas and oh, those diabetic Indian sweets for me! And it all ends with a Delhi Belly by my last day before flying back – an excruciating flight a day or two after New Year follows! For me it’s been the same routine, year on year, since 2001.

This time round, however, I felt a special connection with India. Was it because I am so proud of what India has achieved since I left home? Is it because Modi has genuinely put India on the map and made all NRIs (Non Resident Indians) proud? Is it because I am saddened by the depravity that still engulfs one of the fastest growing economies of the world? It has to be because I am saddened by the ‘go away’ message that seems to be writ large in the perception sphere of those Indian students and their parents who once considered studying in the UK but won’t any longer (Britain has seen a decline of 51% in enrolments from India in the last two years). The latter hurts.

“I know the truly transformative power of Education Brand Britain”

As an international student to the UK first and then as a staff member in UK HE I know the truly transformative power of Education Brand Britain. Yet to see this questioned by the once prospective international students from India is sad and something I am determined to rectify.

Yes, our policy environment hasn’t been conducive; yes, we have got it wrong with the immigration, visa and PSW debates. I along, with other leaders in HE, will continue to make a compelling case on all three matters. In the meantime, however, I want us to make a call for a campaign to restore faith in Education Brand Britain. I will start this firstly as PVC at Bournemouth University, but hope that my counterparts will join in on sending a welcome message to India. This is not a marketing gimmick or a precursor to a token ministerial visit. This for me is a commitment to the values of Higher Education in Britain, which are currently challenged in the Indian context. Britain has never denied access to talent – so I make a call to my readers to work with me as we begin work to rebuild Brand Britain in India. Practically, I offer three directions in which to approach this agenda:

1. Closer working with Indian employers

This is crucial to ensure the employer base in India continues to value the skills development that British HE excels in. Input from Indian employers into our curriculum is another agenda that HE institutions might want to think of collectively – are our graduates ready to operate in the Indian socio-economic-political environment? An environment that is undergoing unprecedented transformation.

2. Closer working with Indian alumni

Since 2004, over 250,000 alumni from UK institutions have returned to India – they are a powerful voice and testament to the transformative intervention that education in Britain provided them – yet am not sure that we do enough collectively as a sector to work with these alumni.

3. A clear set of communication messages

This is easier said than done. However, I feel I still have to make the case: the media coverage for governmental and educational interaction with India has only resulted in confused messages from Britain to India at worst and at best made us appear fragmented and short sighted in our purpose. The messages that Britain is open for business and is welcoming of Indian students have lost their value in the minds of the discerning Indian ‘customer’ (businesses, students, parents etc). The policy regime has been contradictory to these generic messages. It’s time, therefore, to refine our messages and unify them (across the government/ministerial/business/non government bodies) so that we have one clear message from Britain to India and it isn’t just welcoming but is also clear, consistent and compelling.

This is my short passage to Britain as I embark on my journey back home (to Britain) from home (India)!

Sonal Minocha is Pro-Vice Chancellor for Global Engagement at Bournemouth University.