Wales’ global future

By harnessing the combined strength of universities, Wales can emerge as a thriving example of a dynamic global nation, writes Professor Iwan Davies, Vice-Chancellor of Bangor University

This article was originally published in the Western Mail.

The world is changing at pace. The pandemic coupled with our withdrawal from the EU is challenging identities and redefining our relationships internationally. The global forces that already posed risks and opportunities for Wales are now accelerated by the pandemic: greater connectivity is changing the ways that countries are able to work together and, accordingly, their expectations about international engagement and partnerships.

Against this backdrop, it is vital that Wales emerges with a confident, dynamic and outward-looking agenda.

Universities are poised to play a central role in Wales’ recovery. Responsible for around £500 million of export earnings – around 4% of all Welsh exports – the sector is well-placed to deliver on an economic recovery.

Yet the contribution universities make is far wider than the direct economic benefit.

An outward-looking and competitive nation requires a skilled workforce with a global outlook. Providing opportunities for students to be internationally mobile through study or work is crucial to this. Equally, by coming to Wales, international students, staff and researchers play an invaluable role in diversifying and internationalising our campuses and communities at a time when retaining an international outlook is more important than ever.

Partnerships built by universities through transnational education, research and commercial activity have also established a significant footprint for Wales internationally. Through alumni networks, cultural and sporting activities, universities are increasing Wales’ international reach and expanding its soft power.

With these ambitions in mind, Welsh universities joined forces with Welsh Government, British Council Wales and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) to establish ‘Global Wales’ to grow our economy, support collaborative research and innovation, and promote international student mobility.

Global Wales provides an opportunity to capitalise on the strengths of our universities while also supporting Wales to define its role on the world stage.

Led by Universities Wales with the support of partners and funding from the Welsh Government, the programme provides strategic support to the Welsh higher education sector as an export industry and builds networks for Wales in priority markets, currently the USA, India and Vietnam. Later this year, Global Wales is set to adopt the European Union as its fourth priority market.

Unique to Global Wales is its ability to engage in ‘system to system’ development, leveraging all elements of the higher education system – from government and regulator to sector and student body – to respond quickly and innovatively to the requirements of partner countries.

Market development work is carried out ranging from recruitment to capacity building projects, diplomatic delegations and visits with a view to building Wales’ profile, increasing academic and educational partnerships and attracting students and researchers to Wales.

Global Wales has developed a range of scholarships in support of this work, partnering with some of the most prestigious scholarship sponsorship organisations globally as well as launching its own flagship Global Wales Scholarship.

The Global Wales agenda is supported by promotional and awareness raising campaigns under the Study in Wales brand which is fully aligned and delivered in partnership Welsh Government’s own internationally focused Brand Cymru Wales.

The COVID 19 pandemic has naturally impacted on Global Wales and continues to challenge the sector more broadly. It will also continue to affect the ability of students and staff to travel over the coming months. Encouragingly however, thanks to the flexibility and innovative approaches developed by universities, international enrolments have remained strong and international applications have increased across Wales.

Looking ahead, universities believe that with support in place, it will be possible to increase university exports by a staggering 75% to £950m by 2030.

To reach this target, Welsh universities are aiming to grow international (including EU) student numbers to 30,000 by 2030, an increase of over 35%. Reaching this ambitious export target will also require an increase in our international research and educational partnerships. The capacity of Welsh researchers to continue accessing European research funds as well as other major UK and international research funds, with the support of initiatives such as Global Wales, will be key.

By acting together, harnessing the combined strength of universities, and working in collaboration with government, industry, the wider education system, cultural organisations and their collective overseas networks, Wales can emerge as a thriving example of dynamic global nation.

None of this will be possible without bold choices and an agenda for Wales that is open, tolerant, welcoming and international in its outlook.