How can continued innovation in higher education help us meet national and international demand?

Dr Anthony Manning, Director and Dean of Global Lifelong Learning, University of Kent.
The Journey towards a Million UCAS applications by 2030 is a story of great success in response to the continued national and international attractiveness of UK HE. However, the associated challenges are linked to UK civic mission responsibilitiesi and also respond to broader global ambitions as summarised by the government's updated International Education Strategy.ii  

National responsibilities and international benefits

Our institutions have an essential core duty to meet the learning needs of our home students and the skills requirements of their future employers. However, due to a freeze in UK student fees, attracting the participation of higher fee-paying international students also remains an essential priority for UK universities. These two complementary realities highlight the need for creative mechanisms to meet the future demand challenge, as highlighted in the pressiii, with an inference of the risk of a 'tug of war' between home and international student recruitment if practical solutions are not found.

Hubble and Bolton noted that Higher Education performs an essential national function in the UK by improving social mobility.iv Consequently, fair access to higher education is vital to support social equality and opportunity in the UK. In addition, the UK governmentv has also recently committed to a Lifetime Skills Guarantee which aims to allow UK citizens to access the education and training they need throughout their lives in more flexible forms. These two intersecting missions demonstrate the importance of improving access and participationvi in Higher Education for diverse UK students for the longer-term benefit of UK society.  

Regarding international admissions, as HEPI recently indicatedvii, international students are worth approximately £28.8 Billion to the UK economy. In addition, as Hillman notesviii, the recruitment and enrolment of international students in UK HEIs is not just financially beneficial. International students also bring educational benefits by making our campuses more diverse and exciting. Numerous good practice case studies from the sector show mechanisms for enhancing international student experience. These ventures offer the benefits of internationalised Higher Education to all students. One good example is the UKCISA #WeAreInternational Charterix and ongoing attention by UCAS to new ways to support international students in the application process and onboardingx. In recent years, there has also been an additional focus on the value and inclusive potential of Internationalisation at Home (IaH). IaH is an approach which seeks to create inclusive internationalised learning opportunities for all communities on HEI campuses. IaH is also the focus of a dedicated UUKi (2021) reportxi in which model projects from the UK and overseas are showcased. In addition, UK and international sector good practice is highlighted by Manning and Colaiacomoxii and the University of Kent in written and video formats.xiii Knightxiv also highlights that international higher education provides a form of knowledge diplomacy in building and strengthening relations between and among countries in a less colonial and more reciprocal manner.xv  

Identifying solutions to meet demand

The solution to addressing capacity challenges would seem to lie in the leverage and extension of educational delivery through diverse modes which offer opportunities to expand admissions capacity for home and international students through different forms of Higher Education which address varying needs.  

In recent years, perhaps the most significant innovation for home student Higher Education has been offered by the Skills for jobs agendaxvi and the emergence of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships (HDAs). HDAs directly address workforce knowledge, skill and behaviour shortages through government-funded degree apprenticeships and often involve creative learning delivery methods using online and blended learning opportunities.

The rapid digital revolution that higher education experienced during the global pandemic has shown us that the choice between online and face-to-face learning is not a case of 'four legs good, two legs bad'.xvii There is much to celebrate in the breadth of skills acquired and leveraged across the sector in technology-enabled learning, but high demand for face-to-face learning remains.  

Online learning can potentially increase admissions capacity by widening local and international participation for learners who cannot commit to traditional on-campus in-country study due to existing careers, family commitments or financial constraints. However, for success to be achieved and sustained, investment in high-quality and distinctive courses is required alongside ongoing training and, in some cases, collaborative partnerships. However, online education is no longer the blue ocean of uncontested market opportunity but rather a red ocean of vigorous competition.xviii 

Other opportunities include access to shorter learning opportunities such as microcredentials. It will be helpful to observe how funding for these shorter forms of learning may become more accessible through the forthcoming Lifelong loan entitlement.xix It is also interesting to note that the British Accreditation Council (BAC) has recently added microcredentials to its accreditation schemes for UK and international institutions.xx 

In addition, the outcomes of the Government's Augar Reviewxxi in 2022 determined that the cost of foundation year study in universities for UK students should be reduced in favour of incentivisation in UK FE colleges. One aim is to encourage collaboration between HE and FE to create new recruitment pipelines and delivery channels. 

In the context of international admissions, opportunities for meeting increased demand could also be sought through collaborations with other education sectors and Transnational Education (TNE).

Over the last 20 years, we have seen extensive engagement between private international pathway colleges and universities. This development has also resulted in the rise and development of international pathways college networks. After continuous growth in this area, private college providers have established an ecosystem of relationships with universities. New collaborative initiatives between universities and private colleges which extend beyond current forms of provision could also identify additional ways of accommodating the needs of international students at additional levels of higher education to increase UK capacity. 

As noted by UUKixxii, TNE can provide opportunities to share the benefits of international Higher Education with students worldwide while reducing brain drain and environmental impact. TNE promoted by UK HEIs already comes in various formats due to the different requirements and innovations in collaborating countries. The global pandemic has also demonstrated the fragility of some TNE, which is heavily dependent on academic mobility. Nevertheless, the new skillsets provided through the digital revolution and the future need for increased capacity for UK university places should focus minds on ways TNE can be harnessed effectively, ethically and environmentally in years to come.  

Given the UK's continued growth in expertise in TNE and Work-based learning, there is a potential synergy in leveraging these areas of excellence in the sector's response to international skill development requirements such as those described in India's National Education Policy.xxiii 

Concluding thoughts and considerations

Undeniably, the learning modes and course delivery models described above as potential solutions to the growth in demand from home and international students each bring their individual challenges for HEIs.  

By proactively exploring different combinations of potential solutions, such as those examples suggested earlier in this report, universities could feasibly find mechanisms to meet the challenge of increasing sector demand from local and global learners. In following this approach, HEIs could also provide innovative access routes for home and international students. Additional workforce development opportunities could also be offered to UK and international employers whilst alleviating pressure on traditional delivery platforms and estate and maintaining a differentiated portfolio of income streams. 

iGoddard, J., et. al (Eds.) (2016), The Civic University: The policy and leadership challenges. London: Elgar and Deborah Bull, Times Higher Education (2021), How to be a civic university: lessons in collaborating with local communities.

iiDepartment for Education and Department for International Trade (2021), International Education strategy: 2021 update.

iii Jim Dickinson, (May 2022), Yes, international students are displacing home students.

ivHubble, S., et. al (2021), Equality of access and outcomes in Higher Education in England. Briefing Paper 9195 House of Commons Library.

vDepartment for Education (2021). Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth.

viOffice for Students, Access and Participation plans. Accessed March 20th, 2023.

viiHEPI, London Economics, and UUKi (2021), The costs and benefits of international Higher Education students to the UK economy.

viiiNick Hillman, (September 2021), International students are worth £28.8 billion to the UK.

ixUKCISA, WeAreInternational Student Charter. Accessed December 22nd, 2022.

xUCAS (2022), Where Next? What influences the choices international students make?

xiUUKi (2021), Internationalisation at home — developing global citizens without travel.

xiiAnthony Manning and Silvia Colaiacomo (2021), Innovations in Internationalisation at Home. Cambridge Scholars.  

xiiiUniversity of Kent (2021), Innovations in internationalisation at Home Conference: Online Video Sessions and University of Kent (2022), Innovations in internationalisation at Home Conference: The Power of Co-Creation – Online Video Sessions.

xivJane Knight (May 2018), Knowledge diplomacy - A bridge linking international Higher Education and research with international relations.

xvBritish Council (August 2019), The UK's soft power challenge.

xviDepartment for Education (2021), Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth.

xviiSUMS (2020), Silver Linings: How the Response to Covid-19 Will Change Higher Education Forever.

xviiiW. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne (2005), Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School. 

xixDepartment for Education (2022), Lifelong loan entitlement.

xx British Accreditation Council. Microcredentials Scheme. Accessed February 8th, 2022.

xxiPhilip Augar (2019), Review of Post-18 Education and Funding (Augar Report).

xxii UUKi (2021), Transnational education conference 2021+. Universities UK International.

xxiii Government of India (2020), National Education Policy 2020.

Innovation in Higher Education | Dr Anthony Manning | University of Kent

Dr Anthony Manning

Director and Dean of Global Lifelong Learning, University of Kent

Dr Anthony Manning is Dean for Global and Lifelong Learning at the University of Kent. Through his role at Kent, Anthony is responsible for the development, implementation and review of International and Lifelong Learning activity. His work focuses on international programmes and degree apprenticeships using face-to-face, online and hybrid teaching media. Anthony is a Principal Fellow of AdvanceHE and a National Teaching Fellow. Anthony has led educational partnership and development visits to more than 25 countries and is an active proponent of innovation in curriculum internationalisation and work-based learning. Anthony also represents the needs of UK international students on behalf of UKCISA on the UCAS Council and is a Trustee for the British Accreditation Council (BAC).