The Ministry of Education and the British Council recently announced the recipients of the first round of seed funding under the UK-China-BRI Countries Education Partnership Initiative. And they included Peking University, Dalian University of Technology, the University of Leeds and King’s College London.

As part of the funding, an initial 420,000 pounds (US$527,000) of the investment will be provided to nearly 30 universities from 12 countries most of which are involved in the Belt & Road Initiative, to help deepen cooperation mainly in the fields of healthcare, food safety, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, and global leadership transformation.

Zhang Jin, Vice Director of the Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges at the Ministry of Education, says that the initiative is the ministry’s first multilateral collaboration with a European country within the framework of the BRI, which aims to partner with more countries in higher education to resolve shared global challenges.

To Andrew Zerzan, Director of Education at the British Council, the funding is an essential step in connecting the brightest minds across the world to improve the quality and impact of educational collaborations between the United Kingdom and China, and strengthen their expertise in student mobility, joint degree programs and groundbreaking research.

“In the current economic climate, investment in education is a key lever in building lasting links between the two countries,” says Zerzan.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of building strong, sustained people-to-people connections and networks, building from a strong bedrock of trust and mutual understanding and identifying and creating mutual benefits,” says Zerzan, about how to forge a quality relationship between higher education sectors in the UK and China.

Latest statistics from Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that the number of UK university undergraduate applicants from China has increased by 30 percent for the 2019-2020 academic year to 19,760.

Concerned about the possible financial fallout after Brexit, aggressive recruitment efforts have been made by UK universities to attract non-European students.

Meanwhile, favourable policies were announced by the UK’s Department for Education, such as allowing international students to stay up to one year after their study visas expire.

According to the 2019 survey conducted by higher education marketing company QS, which covered more than 75,000 students and 71 universities from around the world, 77 percent of prospective international students claim that extending the post-study leave period for the UK’s visa offer to one year would increase the likelihood of them studying in the UK. And 54 percent of students stated that feeling welcome as an international student is one of the five important factors they consider when choosing a university.

However, Zerzan says the major reason for the UK being one of the favourite destinations for Chinese overseas students is that British education has a tradition of innovation by linking academic foundations with the needs of industry.

This helps to instill in its graduates a need for continuous learning, an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to life as well as strong practical and relevant skills that are appreciated by employers globally.

Zerzan adds that many foreign universities aim to recruit Chinese students for short-term financial gains, which might result in a mismatch in partners, poorer research output and possible frustrations on both sides.

And he also points out that international student mobility is not just about economic funding.

“The environment now is one where there is a mass flow of students and lecturers – a mass flow of knowledge and the UK has to engage in that so Chinese students are among the top academic performers and contribute greatly to scholarly exchange and academic research and development within the UK education sectors,” he says.

Looking ahead to the future of China-UK partnership in higher education, he hopes that both sides can bring together a cross-section of education, science and industry experts together to share insights, provide thoughtful leadership and organise discussions with the purpose of researching and communicating the impact and implications of the future on education, and to debate and take action.