Global problems demand global solutions

Illuminated Skyscrapers In City By Huangpu River Against Sky

Our world is at a tipping point. When we look across the globe, we see problems that go far beyond national boundaries and that demand global solutions.

The old national ways of addressing problems are inadequate to dealing successfully with the problems we face. We need a talented future generation to be able to think in connected ways, and to understand the perspectives of the rest of the world. That’s why I’m travelling to mainland China this week for the first time since the pandemic, and it is why I care deeply about international education.

Global challenges and the importance of education

When we look around the world we see numerous challenges that span national boundaries. We have, of course, just lived through major a global pandemic. But we are also facing the challenge of climate change, significant shifts in demographics which will need new approaches to health and social care, the need for sustainable energy and to make a world capable of feeding 8 billion people.

China will play a leading role in the future of the world, and education will be a central part of this. Together with India, China makes up half of the world’s population. Young people will need good jobs, a healthy economy and a peaceful world to make the most of their lives. To achieve that, we will need the kind of education that opens up possibilities, that builds bridges not walls.

There is a traditional Chinese proverb that makes the link between education and a person’s usefulness in the world - 玉不琢,不成器. Literally translated it says, “If a jade is not cut and polished, it can’t be made into anything.”

Chinese society has long treasured jade, but it rightly values education more. The importance Chinese students and families place on study has led thousands over the years to invest in a journey in which young people leave their familiar surroundings, language and culture to travel overseas in search of learning and opportunity.

A long history of international education

This journey of discovery is also far older than many realise. The first notable Chinese scholar to visit Britain was Michael Shen Fu-Tsung. Born in Nanjing in 1657, he traveled with a Jesuit priest to The University of Oxford iv 1685. There he helped to translate Chinese works and was the first to catalogue Chinese books in the famous Bodleian Library.

The first Chinese student to formally graduate in Britain was Dr. Wong Fun (Huang Kuan) who attended Edinburgh University Medical School in my own home country of Scotland from 1850 to 1855. He later returned to China where he practised as a doctor and a famously skilled surgeon, although today he is remembered by a statue in the University.

Today, Chinese students continue travel to the United Kingdom, although in numbers unimaginable to Dr. Wong Fun. Some of them, like him, study medicine and nursing. Others study engineering and social sciences, architecture and business. The choice is as varied as the young people who take up this opportunity. China sent a record number of 151,690 students to the United Kingdom in 2021-22. The University of Aberdeen where I was myself a student has a vibrant alumni chapter in Beijing and prides itself on its warm welcome to people from China.

Reopening to possibility

After the disruption to travel during Covid, thankfully now China is open once more and l young people can again pursue opportunities to study in person overseas. Trends on major Chinese search engines indicate that China’s border reopening is sparking a dramatic spike in interest for study abroad, with an increase of 138% of students reviewing university options in the UK compared to the previous year.

Study Group also saw a welcome increase in Chinese students in January and we very much hope this is a trend that will continue as confidence returns. With dedicated staff in China and our experienced teachers based at International Study Centres in partnership with universities across the UK, we recognise the importance of the journey Chinese students are making once more. We know what it takes to succeed and we are committed to help many more young people from China experience the benefits of overseas study which have been enjoyed by those who went before.

Over the coming months, students and families in China will again be considering their overseas study options. We know the quality of UK universities is of the upmost importance - highly-ranked traditional places of study, but also excellent professionals-oriented universities with close links with business which specialise in vital subjects like health, technology and business. We also understand the increasing importance of post-study work rights in Britain which will help graduates succeed in their work.

Our privilege is to help students successfully navigate this journey from the idea of overseas study to graduation and beyond, and I and my staff treat that responsibility with the upmost seriousness. We recognise the courage to embark on this adventure.

The eminent physicist and Nobel laureate Stephen Hawking once said, ‘The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.’  When students travel and learn with and from people from other countries, they embrace the opportunity to learn. They respond to the challenge of working with other students from across the world to seek answers and identify solutions.

Chinese parents know that their sons and daughters’ ability to study in new situations and to engage with a wide range of people are exactly the qualities which will help them to secure good jobs and to apply their education in their careers after graduation. These are the same skills and connections our world also needs for the next generation to face up to the challenge of building a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable society for all.  It is our duty to help them succeed.