Are Education exports slowing?

Last August I wrote a piece on this blog about UK Education’s contribution to the export drive under the title ‘Buy British Education’. This followed a research report from the DfE.

Recently, the DfE has updated the figures to include those for 2015. This remains a good news story for UKplc. Our higher education sector accounts for two thirds of the revenue stream in 2015, up from 60% in 2010. Further Education, presumably following the crackdown on colleges and visa infringements, has seen a two thirds drop in income to around £320 million. It had been looking in 2010 as if the FE sector would break the Billion pound barrier.

Happily, the independent school sector has increased income by 44% between 2010 and 2015, and brought in some £900 million in 2015.How they might be affected if further sanctions on are imposed on Russia is an interesting question. Despite a fall in income generated between 2010 and 2015, Language schools still brought in nearly £700 million more than independent schools.

As I predicted last summer, publishing is now being affected as the marketplace adaptation to new technologies gathers pace. Although income has increased by six per cent between 20-10 and 2015, that figure looks derisory compared with achievements elsewhere.  Qualification Awarding Bodies did exceptionally well, increasing revenue by 73% over the period between 2010 and 2015, and brought in £250 million that year.

Taken overall, total education exports and transnational educational activity that earned revenue for the UK saw a 22% growth in revenue between 2010 and 2015 to reach £19,330,000,000.

Of course, all the income flows aren’t in one direction and it would be interesting to assess how much net contribution education makes to UKplc after cash flows in the other direction are taken into account. During the period 2010-2015 that great British institution, the TES, was bought by an American Group and if were it making profits they would presumably be flowing overseas along with some of the company’s contribution to its debt pile.

TeachVac, the company where I am chairman, hope to start making a modest contribution to these export figures through our recruitment site for international schools. As it is based in England, our income can be regarded as part of the export drive.

However, there are some worrying signs behinds the headline numbers. The DfE point out in the latest Bulletin that between 2014 and 2015 total education exports and TNE activity grew by 3.0%, 1.7 percentage points lower than the rate of growth seen between 2013 and 2014. This reflects the slightly lower growth rate in total education related exports which grew at 2.4% between 2014 and 2015, compared to 4.4% in the previous year.

We must now await the outcome of the UK’s departure from the EU to see whether or not it affects income, especially fee and research income received from overseas by our universities. Perhaps, if overseas students had been excluded from the immigration figures, some who voted leave might have felt differently about the referendum: or perhaps not.


Buy British education

At the end of July the DfE published a research report into ‘the UK revenue from education related exports and transnational education activity 2010-2014’ The higher education sector is by far and away the largest contributor to revenue in this sector, increasing from 60% to 66% of the total income during this period.

Non-EU student income across the higher education sector increased by around 30% in current prices from £6.56 billion to £8.55 billion between 2010 and 2014. Income from research and other contracts rose by around 56% in current prices from £0.77 billion to £1.19 billion over the same period. Interestingly, income from both the further education sector and from English Language training fell during this period. The latter, it is said, because courses were shorter in length, thus providing lower fee income. The FE sector now accounts for just two per cent of overseas income. Some of the reduction may have as a result of the crackdown on private colleges and potential visa applications from those that after entry didn’t actually become students.

Independent schools witnessed a 28% growth in income from their UK based operations. They will also have benefitted from the return to the UK of any profits from their overseas campuses established in recent years. The transnational income for the schools sector increased by some 47%, based upon an estimate of the trend data. The local spending associated with this type of activity is excluded from the figures when calculating the transnational revenue figure.

Education publishing, the most mature of the product sectors selling education overseas, saw only an eight per cent growth during the period 2010 to 2014, whereas education related equipment sales increased in revenue terms by 20%, based on the estimate of trend data and education-related broadcasting by nearly a third at 31%. Publishing may find it hard to grown in the future, especially if students continue to switch from paper to on-line sources for information and learning materials. Books generally carry a much high profit margin than resources in new technologies in the same way that print advertising is more profitable than on-line for many publishers.

After BREXIT, the value of EU sales will be added to those generated in the rest of the world. This should pride a one-off change even if registrations from EU students and sales to schools and students in EU countries actually fall post 2019.

Education exporting is an area where both the Business Department and the DfE need to work closely together to encourage exports of educational goods and services and to support both education trade bodies and individual exporters. Fortunately, there is plenty of demand, as is shown on the government’s exporting web site.  However, the range of countries is quite narrow and excludes large sections of the world, especially in the Americas.

There are new potential sources of income such as those from on-line courses increasingly provided by both universities and private sector trainers. This could provide some companies with a lucrative new form of income that allows them to export without ever leaving the comfort of their home base.