31/07/2013 10:24 BST | Updated 31/07/2013 10:24 BST

Education Is a Global Industry Which the UK Is in Prime Position to Lead

You only need to stroll past the façade of Kings College London on the Strand to see a long line of famous faces from around the world who have studied at one of the UK's oldest and most prestigious institutions. This shared history has certainly helped the UK in the past, with global leaders and captains of industry abroad maintaining strong links with the institutions and the people who they studied with, greatly benefiting our society and economy. Since 1945, Oxford University alone has played host to 45 future heads of state and government from 25 countries.

But as set out in the Government's international education strategy published on Monday, this great tradition of welcoming students to the UK is only a small part of a much greater opportunity at hand for British universities, colleges, schools and makers of products and services to contribute to the improvement of education right around the globe.

Education is now emerging as a recognised global industry, estimated to be worth almost £3trillion annually and worth £17.5billion to the UK economy. This is perhaps not surprising, as improving learning outcomes is now fundamental to nearly every country's growth plan as they look to compete in the global economy. While education and the love of learning is a good in its own right which should be championed as such, its impact on the life chances of individuals and their ability to find work and provide for themselves and their families is indisputable.

As this global industry continues to mature, several factors have combined to make this a once in a generation opportunity for the UK to have an impact on some of the biggest and most intractable problems in education around the world. An increasingly digital learning environment offers educators access to powerful data to monitor learners progress and provide greater challenge or support where necessary. In addition, a growing global middle class, prioritising spending on education will create even greater incentives for providers to compete to provide new and even more innovative services and resources.

Continuing pressures on public education authorities in North America and Europe in particular, will also challenge providers to do more and better for less. Similarly, a greater focus on educational outcomes and not just inputs, like the provision of texts books, will require participants in this global marketplace to prove their services and resources help learners make genuine progress. Nowhere is this more important than in the world's poorest countries, where for all the progress in getting children into school, there is a huge amount still to do. In countries throughout sub Saharan Africa, for example, after five years of schooling, there is a 50% chance a child will be illiterate and innumerate.

Lastly, and perhaps unique to this industry, these global educational opportunities will only be realised if providers are able to work in collaboration and partnership. Organisations including Pearson will have to be prepared to work in new ways and embrace open innovation, share research, data and learning ecosystems. If individuals and organisations in the UK are able to do this, will we be able to realise the full commercial opportunities this global industry offers and, in the process, help give millions around the world the skills and knowledge they need to make progress in their lives.