The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has led to a move towards remote learning. As we recover from the pandemic, the further rise of EdTech presents both challenges and opportunities for universities. If managed carefully, UK universities could potentially use EdTech to expand their global reach and deliver further value to employers.

The recently published International Education Strategy, reaffirms the Government’s ambition to strengthen the sector through the internationalisation of education to support the ‘Global Britain’ agenda. The report also touched on the Government’s aspiration to build a world-leading EdTech ecosystem in the UK, as set out in the DfE’s Strategy for education providers & technology in 2019. The UK is already a leader in this sector. However, as the global push towards digitalisation will inevitably increase competition, we must proactively find opportunities to maximise the capabilities of the UK HE sector.

EdTech companies have had huge reach throughout lockdown, especially in collaboration with universities. FutureLearn, established by UK universities, has collaborated with the University of Leeds and the Institute of Coding to deliver online courses in digital skills, which has supported over 400,000 learners from across the globe since June 2020. These courses covered topics such as coding, app design and user design, skills which are increasingly in demand from employers.

The far-reaching capabilities of EdTech could offer the UK a competitive edge. It could enable the HE sector to extend its international engagement and further their global impact by reaching new prospective students through remote learning.

However, the flipside could be international students choosing not to relocate to the UK if the same course can be accessed digitally. The UK could miss out on the benefits of the skills, buying power and cultural diversity international students bring to the country. There is certainly a balance to be struck. On the one hand, innovative use of technology could showcase the benefits of studying in the UK. On the other, remote learning could negate the need to relocate.

The UK is currently the second most popular destination for international students after the US. However, there is increasing competition from countries such as Canada and Australia. The new graduate immigration route is fundamental for the UK to stay ahead in attracting and retaining talent. The Home Office recently announced that this new route would be open to international students who are studying remotely as long as their degree does not finish this academic year, which is positive news. The Home Office would be reluctant to make this permanent. However, if a higher proportion of international students are remote learning in the long-term, future policy-makers may revisit this.

New strategies that articulate the UK’s competitiveness will be critical to maintain desirability. The International Education Strategy identified the Turing Scheme as being key to attracting international talent. This replacement to Erasmus  aims to supporting social mobility by providing additional funding for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to increase opportunities to study outside of the EU. However, the new scheme will not fund exchange students wishing to study in the UK. This might hinder the UK’s ambition to attract a high calibre of talent.

The world is  moving towards digitisation across all sectors, spurred on by the need for remote working and learning created by the pandemic. This change will impact how universities function and deliver their courses. The recovery of the HE sector is underpinned by an international outlook  that will benefit the UK economy. There is certainly scope to utilise the UK’s strength in EdTech technology to increase international engagement and expand global reach. However, for the UK to be a world leader in science, and to continue to be a magnet for diverse talent, digitisation must align with national policy to ensure we are attracting a diverse set of skills and talent to study and work in this country.