International education – doing the right thing for students and the world

Published 28/02/2023

Last month I had the pleasure of travelling to India to meet with Study Group staff, partners and to hear about the ambitions of students keen to access universities across the world. This week I am visiting Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland for the first time since the pandemic, seeing my amazing team who supported students through Covid and who are now helping them take up global study opportunities once more.

These young people, fully backed by their families who recognise the benefits an international education can offer, are following an impressive tradition.

Nehru and Gandhi studied Law in London and Cambridge. The author of India’s founding constitution graduated from LSE. And the first Chinese student to formally graduate in Britain was Dr. Wong Fun (Huang Kuan) who attended Edinburgh University Medical School from 1850 to 1855, returning to China to practise as a surgeon.

Today the mass flow of international students is one of the great phenomenon of the world and, I believe, a powerful force for good. But this is no one-way journey. Our world is changing. 80% of container ships go through the Taiwan Straits. The young and ambitious Global South is keen to enjoy health, prosperity and opportunity. Forward-looking British students and businesses want connections in Delhi and Shanghai, Bangalore and Beijing.

The world’s universities are also changing. In my own time as a student, I read History at The University of Aberdeen. Founded in 1494, the university was intended to train doctors, teachers and clergy who would serve local communities, as well as lawyers and administrators for the Scottish Crown. In 1497 it established the first Chair of Medicine in the English-speaking world. But it was also surrounded by walls protecting it from the outside world.

Over the centuries, the winds of change blew. Great powers rose and fell. Wars came and went. Social change transformed university life. In 1894 the first women began their studies at the Aberdeen. And the impact of its scholarship became global – John Boyd Orr was awarded the Nobel prize for his university research on nutrition and became the first Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“While more affluent societies are ageing, a third of the population of the world is under the age of 20”

Now our planet is home to 8 billion people putting unprecedented pressures on resources. We need new answers to the question of how to live sustainably together in the world. Our economies will need to adapt to climate change and new demographics. India and China alone make up almost half of the people on our planet. And while more affluent societies are ageing, a third of the population of the world is under the age of 20.

Yet if many of our problems are global, so are the solutions. The Age of Empire is over. Answers will need to be found by people working together across national borders and with peers from other countries, backgrounds and perspectives – the very skills that are gained along with a degree qualification by the international students who are fortunate enough to travel the globe inspired by education, opportunity and hope.

This year my youngest daughter prepares to begin her own studies at Aberdeen, and I’m delighted she won’t just be studying with Scots but also a cohort from India and China, Africa and South America, SE Asia and the European continent. The students who begin their degrees in 2023 are a part of a new era in education defined more by connectivity than ancient walls. My daughter will hear about other lives and ideas, and she will share hers. Some of her international peers will become lifelong friends.

So I am proud that my company Study Group is helping prepare students from across the world to enter my old university, and many other great global communities of learning. As we put the pandemic behind us, we are determined to help many thousands more talented students to benefit personally and collectively from study at a wonderful portfolio of research-intensive and modern professionally-oriented universities.

We will grow as we do the right thing by them. And the world needs all the smart and globally connected young people it can get.

About the author: Ian Crichton is the CEO of global education provider Study Group which operates international colleges with leading universities around the world.

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