International Strategy for Higher Education Institutions

RSS FeedA journey through time - Part 2

Posted on by Vicky Lewis

2004 - 2014

2004-2014This is the second in a series of blogs reflecting on my 30 years in the international HE sector, one decade at a time. The first one, covering 1994 – 2004, can be found here.

Each blog is part reminiscence about how my career developed in the decade concerned and part commentary on what was going on in the sector.

This one is quite UK-focused. It would be interesting to hear about key developments during these years in other parts of the world.

My professional journey

My role at Bournemouth University broadened out from late 2004 as I was asked to take on responsibility for marketing, communications and alumni relations functions alongside the International Office.

I was juggling the day job with my DBA research until I completed my thesis (in the nick of time before giving birth to my first child) in 2007. My thesis explored different drivers for and approaches to internationalisation across the UK HE sector and really opened my eyes to the value of applying research in my professional role.

My role changed again from the beginning of 2009, following a major Professional Services restructure which resulted in my appointment as Director of Marketing and Communications. I still had responsibility for international marketing and student recruitment but other aspects of the IO’s remit were integrated into different Professional Services. (I also had child number two in 2009.)

The international dimension of my role gradually became smaller (with virtually no international travel anymore), as there were lots of other competing priorities. I missed it and, in spring 2013, I took the rash decision to make the leap into self-employment. I figured I’d see if I could make a go of consultancy, supporting HEIs in their international ambitions. I will be forever grateful to the University of Southampton for awarding me my first big project (and then inviting me back for two more in quick succession).

Sector developments

2004 was an upbeat time for international education in the UK. It saw the publication of the government’s international strategy for education, skills and children’s services, entitled Putting the World into World-Class Education.

This was refreshing because it took education (not exports) as its starting point and covered all stages and sectors of the education system. At its heart were notions of global citizenship, global employability, knowledge exchange, international partnership, and even language learning (though this last priority was undermined by the disappointing decision to make foreign language study optional from the age of fourteen).  

2004 also saw the opening of the University of Nottingham’s China campus (four years’ on from establishment of its Malaysia campus, the first British branch campus outside the UK). Other UK universities followed suit in setting up international campus operations.

In 2006, the second phase of the Prime Minister’s Initiative (PMI) was unveiled, alongside the UK-India Education Research Initiative (UKIERI). Both were five-year programmes of investment, launched by Tony Blair with the following words:

‘Increasingly education is crossing national boundaries as it prepares our young people for careers in the global economy. I am passionate about raising standards in education in our country, but that means that we must be willing to learn from the best in the world. It means sharing experience and knowledge and being open to innovation and creativity from whatever direction it comes.

And it's not just about getting students to choose UK universities and colleges. It's about building sustainable partnerships between our universities and colleges and those of other countries. We want to see many more shared research projects, shared courses and joint degrees; we want to see more exchanges of students and academic staff; we want UK education to become genuinely international.’

This reflected a much broader agenda than the first PMI, highlighting the need for diversification and a positive student experience as well as recruitment growth. Development funding was used to stimulate research links and partnerships in countries of the Global South.

However, the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 led to funding cutbacks and concerns about immigration surfaced. After the 2010 general election, David Cameron’s coalition government introduced an austerity budget and pledged to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’. By 2012, Theresa May was using her powers as Home Secretary to foster what was known as the ‘hostile environment’ policy which, among other things, abolished the two-year Post-Study Work visa.

Recruitment of international students to the UK stalled and, in 2012/13, declined slightly for the first time in 29 years. In an attempt to counter negative government rhetoric and actions, the original #WeAreInternational campaign was launched in 2013 by University of Sheffield.

There was growing focus on transnational education opportunities, and MOOCs were hyped up as a major disruptor of traditional HE (this didn’t transpire in the way that some predicted). In 2013, the UK government published International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity, a key sector strategy supporting the main industrial strategy. This had a firm focus on education exports.

Fun (or not so fun) fact

Between 2002 and 2011, the percentage of UK GCSE pupils studying a modern foreign language declined from 76% to 40%.

(Source: British Council, Language Trends 2018)


The period 2004 to 2014 started on a high but ended on a more problematic note for international education in the UK. While international partnership ambitions were increasingly highlighted within university internationalisation strategies, the primary focus remained on shoring up international student recruitment.  

The next blog in the series will cover 2014 to the present day (mid-2024).

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