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Global Indian talent: made in Britain

Dr. Sonal Minocha

Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Global Engagement
Bournemouth University
Mumbai skyline
On the eve of PM Modi’s visit – everything Indian is on our radars. A recent British Council event reminded us that #IndiaMatters. Yet, the reality in UK HE remains uncertain.

The latest HESA Students In Higher Education 2013-14 data shows that whilst international students from China have been on the rise, those from India have declined for a third year in a row, although the rate of decline is slowing.

International students bring a huge contribution to the UK economy, but alongside this, we somehow seem to underestimate the potential long-term impact and wider benefits of attracting, training and retaining international students who are the future global talent for the UK, our universities, businesses and societies.

International Students in UK HE and their Wider Contribution to the UK Plc

A recent report outlined the enormous contribution that international students make to UK HE and the UK economy as a whole – over £7.2 billion worth of fees and living costs. In addition, little attention is given to the impact of our international students in filling the global talent gap across a range of ‘skills-hungry’ sectors of the economy in the UK. International students, who have UK HE qualifications, may well be able to provide the skills needed for the growth and future of the UK economy as recognised by a recent House of Lords report.

I would however argue that the contribution of international students extends far beyond the economic dimension – the presence of international students impact and enrich our cultural, social, and intellectual footprint as a nation. Our international graduates are the global talent that will shape the future of our regions and nations.

Why India for the UK? And why the UK for India?

Well why not?! The two nations couldn’t be at a more compatible stage of evolution where an ‘arranged marriage’ (pun not intended!!) could be mutually beneficial. Let’s take the case of ‘talent’ alone.

India-a nation categorised by rapidly shifting demographics. More than half of its population is under the age of 25 and it is projected that India will be among the world’s youngest countries by 2020. Combine that with India’s aspirations to become a global talent hub via skilling India’s workforce as per the recommendations from the 2014 FICCI Higher Education Summit: “Higher Education 2030: Making It Happen”. Together these present a number of opportunities for UK HE.

UK – shifting demographics in the UK. Britain sees its highest levels of ageing than at any time in recent history, with one in every six people now aged over 65.  The UK is already experiencing global talent shortages – as an illustration, 745,000 additional workers with digital skills will be needed to meet the rising demand from UK employers by 2017. Equally, the UK is evidently slipping down prominent skills and talent indices , such as Hays. These conditions support a strong call for exploring opportunities for UK Plc to access a wider pool of global talent.

Why an alliance?

A partnership between Indian and UK HE institutions can help India fulfil its aspirations to become a global hub for talent thanks to its favourable demographics and large HE output. And indeed, we have evidenced the transformative power of UK HE abroad – over 250,000 graduates from UKuniversities have joined the global talent workforce of India since 2004.

Yet, employability of Indians graduating from Indian HEIs is low – as many as 75% are not considered employable. UK HE can support India’s aspirations to become a global talent hub by addressing the gap between quantity and quality of talent graduating from Indian HEIs.

Immigrants fill one in five skilled British jobs and the contribution of Indian talent to the UK should not be underestimated – Indians represent over 40% of the highly skilled international workforce in the UK. Equally, Indian businesses in the UK at present employ more than 100,000 people.

In light of the above facts and figures, you would probably agree with me that we trained, but somehow failed to retain, the next generation of global Indian talent that would help the UK Plc flourish. And I would argue that UK universities are well-placed to support this agenda if only our visa and immigration policy would allow us.

Let’s communicate clearly and consistently!

So, PM David Cameron will welcome PM Narendra Modi to the UK tomorrow. In preparation for this important meeting, we should think whether we have, collectively as a sector, shaped a clear set of communication messages for the future of UK-India relations.

Messages that will communicate the range of opportunities for restoring our relations with India, and more importantly – how these opportunities can and should benefit both countries.  There is, for example, a real opportunity to concentrate our efforts around developing a sector-wide framework for bilateral academic, research and industry partnerships between the UK and India to shape the next generation of global talent for our nations. And I say it again- let’s tackle the problem head on and improve the post-study work opportunities.

Some food for thought from me….In the meantime, let’s embark on shaping UK-India HE futures collectively… and continue to rebuild brand Britain in India so we can proudly claim that we shape global talent irrespective of the passport-a statement I made when welcoming over 500 new international students to Bournemouth University (and the UK!) in a special  commencement ceremony last month.

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