Publisher May / June 2021

Exporting education

To paraphrase that classic Monty Python sketch in the Life of Brian film: “What did UK exports ever do for us?” Well, let’s look at the official statistics of the world’s sixth-biggest economy. 

Top of the export table is vehicles. Yes, but mostly Japanese cars and, anyway, we import more foreign models than we export UK-made ones. Well, how about machinery and computers? Yes, but apart from that what have exports done for us? Gold. Well, okay, but some years we buy twice as much as we export, depending on the notoriously unstable price of the “safe haven” precious metal. Pharmaceuticals? Well, yes, maybe with vaccines this year. Crude petroleum? But, like coal, how much longer will anyone need that divisive, toxic climate changer? 

Soft power

It may not be the most glamorous or contemporary sector, and education is often left off the top 10 list of UK exports, perhaps due to the indirect, invisible or otherwise difficult-to-measure impact it has on the economy and the world. Like soft power. One recent study found that exports rise by 0.8 percent for every 1 percent rise in a country’s soft power. The UK is usually first or second in the annual global soft power top 30, largely thanks to education exports.  

Whether it’s foreign students at UK universities and language schools, or boarding at elite establish­ments, our expertise and investment in British curricula at home and abroad is in high demand. The UK Department for Education said in December that combined total exports and “transnational education activity” was estimated at more than £23 billion in 2018, an increase of almost nine percent over 2017. Indeed, since 2010 the estimated value of the sector has risen by more than 46 percent. That should put the combined sector in the top five of some UK export comparisons. More recent figures might skew the calculations somewhat because of the huge hit it—and many sectors—are taking from Covid-19.

So, where is all this going? Well, it brings us to the current issue of BCCJ ACUMEN, with its strong theme of UK education: inbound and outbound, kinder­garten to high school, boarding school, further education, teacher training, exams, and more.   

A child at the Phoenix House North Peak enrichment campus in Hokkaido (left)
Students at The British School in Tokyo enjoying co-curricular activities (right)

This issue you’ll find an article about the kind boss of a large Tokyo recruitment company who is repaying goodwill and faith from his 1960s British education by funding Japanese youngsters at UK universities to, it is hoped, become global leaders. His multi-million-yen scholarships come without strings attached, or repayments. With the UK having slipped down some global education destination tables due to visas, exchange rates and fierce competition—from sunnier nations such as Australia, Canada and the United States—why choose the UK? Read on; it’s a heart-warming story sure to make Britons and educators proud. 

Then there is more on the Benefits of a British Education, including how, why and where exclusive Harrow and Rugby schools are finally investing in Japan. On a related subject, there’s also a recent BCCJ event, titled The Internationalisation of Japanese Universities, that was moderated by Alison Beale, director of the University of Oxford Japan office and BCCJ vice president.

Caterham Seven 160

Coals to Newcastle

And a huge congratulations to old Tokyo hand Justin Gardiner who has just been made chief operating officer at another great UK export in Japan, Caterham Cars Ltd. Occasionally featured in ACUMEN, he has spent almost three decades here and, to quote him, he understands “the Japanese office environment and work ethic, while not having abandoned a more British ‘get it done’ attitude”. 

Gardiner invented, designed, developed, launched and marketed the wildly successful Caterham Seven 160—the first non-Japanese car conceived and designed specifically for the Japanese market. Now that’s also something to be proud of.