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As building trade links beyond Europe becomes increasingly important to the UK’s future, a new report outlines ‘myriad opportunities’ for the British education industry in China’s multi-trillion-dollar initiative.
The BritCham China report “Education on the Belt and Road” which has now been translated into Chinese, blazes a trail through what is undeniably a highly complex and sometimes nebulous vista of economic activity. The Belt and Road Initiative, first announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013, states its main aims as promoting ‘regional economic cooperation’, strengthening ‘exchanges and mutual learning between different civilisations’, and promoting ‘world peace and development’. As the report highlights, since its inception, more than 100 countries have participated in the Initiative, and different routes spanning Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean have sprung up with breathtaking rapidity in its 6-year history. A progress report on the Belt and Road released on Monday says that from 2013 to 2018 the value of trade between China and other B&R countries surpassed US$6 trillion.
The good news for the UK is that the mammoth infrastructure, financial and service projects currently underway are opening an ever-increasing array of education opportunities across Belt and Road regions, from setting up international schools in Kazakhstan, to delivering vocational training in Mozambique; from training teachers in Argentina to working to reduce gender inequality in Pakistan. In an exhaustive survey of the different regions involved in the Initiative, the report enumerates for the first time nearly 50 different spheres of opportunity across of a number of sectors within the education industry, an area in which ‘the UK has demonstrated a reputation for excellence’. These spheres of opportunity cover a wide range of different sectors of the industry but can be broadly aligned to the Chinese Ministry of Education’s commitment to develop ‘people-to-people bonds’, ‘cultivate supporting talent’ and ‘achieve common development’.
The report makes the case that the UK and China are ’natural partners in education’, highlighting the unprecedented recent successes of UK-China education collaboration, and citing a flurry of recent political and diplomatic activity between China and the UK relating to the industry. In the past half year, a number of UK-China Belt and Road collaborations have already begun to take shape, including:
- An MoU between the Tao Xingzhi Committee and UK National Recognition Information Centre set up the Belt and Road International Vocational Education Initiative, providing consultancy for Chinese vocational colleges who plan to work with foreign providers.
- An MoU between the University of Cumbria, the UK Skills Partnership Committee and the Shaanxi Energy Institute to cooperate on a number of projects including jointly running schools schools with double academic qualifications, setting up Sino-British modern apprenticeship colleges, carrying out teacher training, and serving the development and construction of countries along the
- A British Council ‘UK-China BRI Countries Partnership Fund Grants Program’ that earmarked £430,000 in 2018/2019 for supporting multi-lateral higher education links between the UK, China, and Belt and Road Countries.
- A ‘Belt and Road Forum for CN-UK Educational Cooperation’ in Beijing.
Though the British government has yet to formally endorse the BRI, a number of high-level members of government from both countries have touted the UK as a ‘natural’ fit for the Initiative, including British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond and Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming. Xinhua, the state news platform in China said in September, “By taking an active part in BRI projects, Britain will benefit itself while helping the projects to maintain high standards, high quality and high rewards. It will serve as a role model and provide a roadmap for other Western countries in BRI cooperation.” Phillip Hammond is scheduled to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation this week.
There have been questions raised in some quarters (most recently Malaysia) about the long-term benefits of BRI projects on participating countries, and along with identifying BRI education opportunities, the report also proposes the ‘BritCham BRI Benchmarks’, a set of standards that are designed to be incorporated by education organisations participating in the BRI. The nine benchmarks aim to ensure high standards and rigour, fiscal responsibility and opportunity, as well as sustainability and ethics in all existing and future BRI education projects.
Some interesting takeaways from the report
- BRI is increasingly not based on geographical routes but becoming almost a catch-all term for Chinese trade policy abroad
- Girls’ and women’s education and entrepreneurial education are growing areas in the MoE’s work towards ‘achieving common development’
- Opportunities for third party involvement from the UK exist in the greater proportion of the 100+ countries involved in the BRI
- The UK has a particularly strong track record with TVET and TNEs. Currently the UK has TNE partnerships in all but 14 countries worldwide
- The UK’s global reputation for curriculum, qualifications, higher education and training have made these particularly strong areas for current and future collaborations
- Although involvement in many educational areas is already underway, and projects involving student exchanges and TNE partnerships in particular are in some cases well-advanced, the potential scope for future projects is vastly greater and could lead to a meaningful boost for the UK education industry
- The UK could have a significant role to play in ensuring ethical standards and assuring quality in BRI projects – and helping to further the ambitiously positive development goals intrinsic to China’s BRI narrative
Julian Fisher, Education Forum Chair of the British Chamber of Commerce in China, said ‘This report is the first of its kind and will dramatically change how UK education organisations both understand and approach the Belt and Road. We heard from our members that they were confused, and we have responded with a report that is both comprehensive in its scope but also deeply practical in the potential opportunities it highlights and benchmarks it lays out for success. We have no doubt that this document will form the basis for all UK education companies (and hopefully Chinese companies) looking to engage with the Belt and Road Initiative in future.’
William Vanbergen, Education Forum Chair of the British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai, said ‘The interesting opportunity for China-based education companies is to follow along with the government’s Belt and Road plan and establish profitable operations that help promote cultural and educational exchange.’
Matt Ryan, Education Forum Chair of The British Chamber of Commerce Southwest China, said, ‘With Southwest China very much a part of both the original Silk Road, as well the Belt and Road Initiative, this in-depth report provides much information on what was previously a surprisingly scarcely published area.’
Peter Tsang, Education Forum Chair of the British Chamber of Commerce Guangdong said ‘BRI has vast potential in bringing continents together through equality and sustainability, whilst culturing future talents into the next century. Seize the opportunity, embrace the challenge and celebrate the change.’
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尽管英国政府尚未正式书面支持“一带一路”倡议，但两国政府中的许多高级官员都对英国是中国“一带一路”倡议“天然伙伴”这一提法推崇备至，这其中就包括英国财政大臣 Philip Hammond和中国驻英国大使刘晓明。中国官方新闻平台新华社在其9月份的报道中称，“英国在共建“一带一路”向更高标准、更高质量、更高收益发展过程中受益。英国将成为示范者，并为其他西方国家提供“一带一路”合作的路线图。” Phillip Hammond计划于本周参加在北京举办的第二届“一带一路”国际合作高峰论坛。