International Strategy for Higher Education Institutions

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Posted on by Vicky Lewis

1994 - 2004

1994 - 2004I started working in international higher education back in September 1994.

This is the first in a series of blogs reflecting on my 30 years in the sector one decade at a time.

It’s part reminiscence about how my career developed in the decade concerned and part commentary on what was going on in the sector.

This first blog may resonate with those who have been working in this field as long as I have (you know who you are!).

My professional journey

I started off by stumbling into a largely self-defined, nine-month role at University of Wales Lampeter. I was their first and sole International Officer, covering exchanges, international recruitment marketing and student support (alongside being editorial assistant for an academic journal).

I then enjoyed a happy stint at Edinburgh Napier University, spending a lot of time on the road recruiting international students and building relationships with Study Abroad partners, while working my way up to Deputy Director of the International Office (IO).

Continuing my tour around the UK nations, in 2000 I moved to Bournemouth on the south coast of England as the University’s first Head of International. I was given pretty much free rein to set up an IO from scratch, which was a wonderful privilege. And the University generously supported me as I embarked on my part-time Doctorate of Business Administration (Higher Education Management) at the University of Bath in 2003.  

Sector developments

There were plenty of challenges and new developments impacting international higher education during that first decade of my HE career. The Asian financial crisis began in 1997 and affected many economies across East and Southeast Asia. Many government-sponsored students from Malaysia due to study abroad had to stay at home. Some UK universities invested in scholarship funds to support their Southeast Asian students, while others shifted their recruitment efforts to different parts of the world.

2001 brought the devastating events and aftermath of 9/11, followed in 2003 by the outbreak of SARS (a form of coronavirus), with cases most prevalent in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada and Singapore. This resulted in school closures, lockdowns and advice not to travel to particular areas. There were high levels of anxiety relating to overseas travel, and widespread mask-wearing by Asian students.

In the UK, 1999 brought the launch by Tony Blair of the multi-million-pound Prime Minister’s Initiative (PMI) to increase the number of non-EU international students studying at UK HEIs by 50,000 over the 6 years to 2005 (from just over 115,000 in 1997/98) (a target which was easily exceeded ahead of schedule).

And January 2000 saw the publication of the British Council’s Realising our Potential: A strategic framework for making UK education the first choice for international students. This paved the way for investment in brand development and a high-energy marketing campaign which had exhibition halls around the world echoing to the strains of M People’s Search for the Hero.

Fun fact

In 1994/95 there were fewer than 300 Chinese undergraduates studying in the whole of the UK.

(Source: HESA archive)


All in all, despite the bumps along the way and the narrowly recruitment-focused strategies and immature systems supporting internationalisation efforts at UK universities, 1994 – 2004 felt like a period of growth and dynamism.

The next blog in the series will cover 2004 – 2014.

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