British unis to go offshore

Article from: The Australian
Aban Contractor | November 19, 2008

UNIVERSITIES in Britain will have a brighter future if they focus their international efforts on a long-term program of internationalisation, a move that could include building overseas campuses.

That is the view put by Drummond Bone, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, in a report prepared for the Labour Government as part of a push to ensure Britain remains a world leader in higher education during the next 10 to 15 years.

Innovation, Universities and Skills Minister John Denham commissioned nine higher education bureaucrats to look at the state of play and recommend how the sector should develop in a global economy.

The reports, published last week, suggested among other things that universities in Britain needed to offer a form of pick-and-mix degrees to allow students to build qualifications from modules taken at different times in different universities.

Universities should make it easier to switch between full-time and part-time courses, possibly by making students pay for each module they complete rather than a whole program of study.

Universities needed to look at structures and systems that suited student needs rather than those of the institution.

A report on research careers said more researchers needed to transfer between academe and industry. Government should look at ways to extend scholarships for high-quality postgraduate students.

Mr Denham said he was not yet going to respond to the reports but next year would publish a framework document on the future of higher education.

Instead, he encouraged interested parties to take part in an online debate that would run until January.

That would be followed by a conference with stakeholders.

In a letter to Ron Cooke, chairman of the joint information systems committee board, Mr Denham said he wanted advice on “how we can become a world leader in higher education e-learning over the next 10 to 15 years”, including an assessment of how institutions should develop the use of e-learning tools to service an increasingly international and competitive market.

Sir Ron said in his report that higher education in Britain enjoyed world-class information and communications technology and that should be maintained.

“But more effective leadership, at all levels, is required toexploit this infrastructure,” he said.

“In particular the UK should, and can, be world leading in online learning; it must manage and curate research data more effectively; and (higher education institutions) need to treat information as a resource to be managed strategically.”

Britain needed to take a new approach to virtual education “based on a corpus of open learning” if it were to succeed.

That would be best served by national centres of excellence to provide quality control, essential updating, skills training and research and development in educational technology, e-pedagogy and educational psychology.

The centres would cost about an extra pound stg. 4million ($9.2 million) a year to establish.

Sir Ron called for revitalised investment into e-infrastructures through the funding councils and research councils.

That would allow more effective international collaborations and help build a layer of academic and scholarly resources readily available to all.

“Research data is a significant national asset that is not uniformly well managed or curated; it is costly to collect and has the potential to improve the research process,” Sir Ron said.

“Failure to protect and exploit the UK investment in research data will eventually reduce our international standing and the effectiveness of research.”

In his letter to Professor Bone, Mr Denham touched on Britain’s success in attracting overseas students, saying it was an issue ofconsiderable strategic importance to the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills.

In the next 10 to 15 years it was an area where Britain could expect increased competition.

“There is a key issue about how best to continue to take advantage of the international student market and other opportunities offered by globalisation, as well as understanding better the degree of risk involved in continuing to rely on large and growing numbers of international students,” he wrote.

Mr Denham wanted to know “how sustainable is the current level of inward international study” and the capacity of the sector as a whole — and the individual institutions within it — to absorb overseas students “without diminishing the quality of the qualifications offered and of the experience for all students”.