THE BLOG

World Class: UK Higher Education

15/07/2015 15:47 BST | Updated 13/07/2016 10:59 BST

Working around the world, you'd know it; but the true impact of UK higher education is sometimes better recognised overseas than here in Britain.

Most people in the UK will have a sense that UK universities are good. People may be aware that we attract a lot of international talent too. But our national tendency towards modesty shouldn't shroud the reality that higher education is one of the UK's best and most attractive assets on the world stage.

Here's the evidence:

We attract more international students than any other country in the world: UK higher education records more new international higher education (IHE) students each year than any other country, even the USA (notably the UK attracts more people on shorter one year masters courses than the US).

UK universities reach more international students, in more countries than anyone else's: thanks to our culture of widening access and our rich history of distance learning, the UK's 131 universities reach pretty much every country in the world - that's more than 600,000 students worldwide who are studying for UK Higher Education qualifications.

You could populate a major UK city with current international students: There are close to 500,000 international students studying at UK higher education institutions right now: all contributing to the contemporary educational, cultural and economic life of the UK.

You could fill Wembley stadium 25 times with recent UK international alumni (and they'd be cheering): More than two million international alumni have studied at UK universities in the last 10 years and research shows the vast majority felt they had a great experience of higher education and this country.

UK alumni are very influential: One in seven world leaders (presidents and prime ministers) in 2014 had studied in the UK and have experienced UK society, values, freedom of academic and personal expression, laws, norms and ways of living.

UK students really value studying alongside ambitious people from around the world: Recent research of UK students' attitudes by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that over three-quarters say studying alongside people from other countries is great preparation 'for working in a global environment'.

International education contributes £billions to the UK economy: The financial value of UK universities, colleges and schools working internationally, plus education exports - are worth more than £17.5 billion each year to the UK economy. That's equivalent to nearly half the UK's annual defence budget and is £5bn more than we spend on International Development each year.

And, just so you know... half of all prospective international students who favour studying in the UK over other destinations, have had a British Council experience: learning English, taking a UK-backed exam with us or taking part in a British Council cultural or educational programme.

Why is this?

World-wide we've seen huge growth in young people wanting to explore new cultures and gain new skills by living, studying and working overseas. For eighty years, the British Council has helped connect the UK with the world by promoting the UK's world class education sector overseas, and helping students come to the UK's colleges and universities.

In 1940 this was described as aiming "to create overseas a basis of friendly knowledge and understanding of the people of this country, of their philosophy and way of life". What better way to make friends than studying and learning together.

Here are just four of many many thousands who have chosen the UK - and you can be sure the next generation of world leaders are walking the busy halls and corridors of UK universities today.

Hassan Rouhani - Glasgow Caledonian University, 1999. Current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a former law maker and Iran's seventh President. Since being elected into office in 2013, Rouhani has begun to strengthen links between Iran and the international community. Rouhani studied law followed by a PhD in constitutional law.

Aung San Suu Kyi - University of Oxford and SOAS, University of London, 1960. Burmese politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world's most famous former political prisoners. She was detained under house arrest for almost 15 years until her most recent release in 2010. In 2014 she was listed by Forbes magazine as the 61st most powerful woman in the world. Aung San Suu Kyi studied philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford in the late 1960s, and Burmese literature at SOAS between 1985 and 1987.

Juan Manuel Santos - London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), 1975. Former economist and Minister, Juan Manuel Santos was elected as President of Colombia in 2010. Internationally recognised for his forceful stance against FARC and other guerrilla groups operating in Colombia, Santos is credited for having increased security levels in the country. He graduated LSE with a master's in economics.

Desmond Tutu - King's College London, 1960. South African activist and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu rose to fame in the 1980s as a vocal opponent of apartheid. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his clear views and fearless stance against apartheid. Tutu says that studying in the UK "opened up a whole new world". He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in theology at King's College London in the 1960s.

Our 'International Higher Education and the UK' exhibition is currently running at the British Council: 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN until 21 August 2015, before travelling around the world. The exhibition is open 9am-6pm Monday to Friday.

Find out about more the value of internationalising UK higher education: http://www.britishcouncil.org/education/ihe

If you've studied in the UK find out about our Education UK Alumni Awards: http://www.britishcouncil.org/education-uk-awards