Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

HE&me

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

HE&me

Article excerpt

In April, Vivienne Stern became director of the UK Higher Education International Unit. She was previously head of political affairs at Universities UK, and has worked for the chair of the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee and as a policy adviser for UUK. She is a graduate in English literature from the University of Cambridge

Where and when were you born?

London - about 10 minutes' walk away from my current office [in Tavistock Square].

How has this shaped you?

I grew up in Leicester, which saved me from a totally London-centric view of the world.

What do you think is the most attractive aspect of the UK's higher education sector among prospective international students?

It is quality. The UK has huge natural advantages - language, history and culture - but the quality of our higher education system is frequently cited first in the conversations I have.

Has the UK suffered a dip in reputation or is it still strong in the international market?

We have a fantastically strong international reputation, but there are many other countries putting considerable energy into challenging our position as one of the most popular partners and destinations for international students. The UK government understands how important higher education links can be, politically, diplomatically and economically. But it is not always as helpful as it could be, or as some competitor governments are. The recent decreases in the number of new international enrolments in the UK should be a real warning sign.

Are any of the decisions made by policymakers risking the UK's reputation? If so, why?

Ministers are keen to stress that the UK welcomes international students - I notice they have that message on screens at passport control at airports. But the rhetoric aimed at domestic audiences sends the opposite message, and frequent visa policy change just creates the impression that the UK is unwelcoming.

What kind of undergraduate were you?

Possibly a bit floaty. I used to read Dante at dawn by the river, so...But I had great freedom as an undergraduate. I chose papers because I wanted to be taught by particular people; by doing that I was exposed to things I never knew I would be interested in, like political communications. …

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