7th UK-China Education Summit – UK & Chinese Students help Set Agenda

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Midway through the discussions at the 7th UK-China Education Summit in Beijing, the Rt Hon David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, addressed China’s Vice Minister for Education Hao Ping and the assembled delegates to propose an adjustment to visa requirements to make it easier for UK students to undertake internships in China.

A day earlier, 16 students from the UK and China had presented their findings from the UK-China Student Forum, organised by the British Council, to both ministers following discussions on education and employability, and the international student experience.

A closer union of academia with business and industry, in particular the integration of internships into university courses and study abroad courses, was one of the key findings of the UK-China Student Forum, the students asserting that it would give them a better chance of securing employment after graduation.

Generation UK, the British Council’s flagship outward student mobility campaign, has announced its ambition to see 80,000 UK students participate in academic study or work experience programmes in China by 2020. Minister Willetts, in support of the findings of the Student Forum, pointed to the Huawei Summer Internship Programme as an internship model that could be more widely adopted.

Vocational and enterprise education was an equally hot topic of discussion at the UK-China Student Forum. Georgie Kirby, studying for a BSc in Business Administration at the University of Bath, summed up to the auditorium at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University the findings of both sets of students:

“We believe it is the responsibility of governments to help improve the reputation of vocational schools, and to make students and their families understand that they are making a great contribution if they do choose this path.”

Martin Dole, the Chief Executive of the Association of Further Education Colleges and part of the British delegation at the UK-China Education Summit, took up the students’ findings with the ministers at the summit, suggesting that a Vocational Education and Training roundtable be put in place between the two countries.

“A late point I’d wish to make, that arose from the Student Forum yesterday, is that the students called for greater recognition and prominence be given to vocational education, so I do think at the next summit there will be value in having a VET roundtable.”

Minister Willetts backed Mister Dole’s suggestion, saying that the British Government “attaches great importance to the idea that young people in the UK should have two equally valued career options.”

Following the wrapping-up of the 7th UK-China Education Summit, which focused on basic education and school improvement as well as student mobility, institutional partnerships and vocational education, the students who participated in the UK-China Student Forum were delighted to hear that the findings from their own discussions had influenced the ministerial summit.

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“The ministers heard what we had to say and they got the message loud and clear,” said Tomas Robertson, studying for a MEng in Software Engineering at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University.

Asked what he would take away from his experience, Tomas was determined to help spread the word about the value of going abroad, for work experience or study.

“I’ve been talking to lots of people from the Study China programme, and I’m definitely going to talk to the university about it when I get back to Heriot-Watt to make sure this great opportunity for study abroad is being publicised.”

Fundamentally, the findings of the 16 students at the UK-China Student Forum hinged on the idea of greater integration. For students studying abroad, this means the integration of living arrangements, of social life, customs and study, with the goal that the student should feel a part of the university life and the local life of their study destination, and that in turn, this will help impart the international mindset that employers increasingly demand.

With 230 joint higher education programmes currently in place between the UK and China, over 90,000 Chinese students studying at UK universities and around 5,400 UK students studied in China in 2013, the findings of the students have given both sets of ministers and university presidents and vice-chancellors much to consider on how they can best ensure that the quality of the growing exchanges between the UK and China can be sustained and enhanced.

The significance of two way student exchange between the UK and China was reiterated the following day at another student-themed event. UK-China Student Moments, organised jointly by the British Council and the China Scholarship Council on the same day as the Education Summit, reflected on more than 40 years of student exchange since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the UK and China in 1972.

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, and China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong, opened the event and shared their thoughts on the value of education exchange and cooperation, and how it has served to strengthen trust and understanding between the two nations, before convening the People-to-People Dialogue in an adjacent room.

A diverse range of speakers from the UK and China, representing each of the four decades of exchange between the two nations, shared their memories and experiences of exchange to the assembled guests, students and alumni.

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