Last week I traveled in London. It was the beginning of a new academic year, and in the airport there were more than a few travelers who had the look of students.
London Heathrow Airport offered a special passageway for foreign students to get through the customs. Staffs were also appointed to guide these students. Outside the airport, volunteers holding up signs were waiting to provide services for them.
Looking around at these travelers with student look, I found many of them were Asian. In the next few days, both in Cambridge or Oxford, I frequently saw Asian students.
In Asia, it has almost become a fashion to study in the UK. In Bangkok, while applying for my visa to the UK, I encountered many young Thai people waiting for their student visas to the UK. In China and India, a huge number of students study in the UK every year, despite very costly tuition fees.
Education has thus become an important industry for the UK. Each year, the tuition fees paid by foreign students alone bring in $20 billion for the country. At the Said Business School of University of Oxford, Professor Eric Thun particularly mentioned education when talking of the UK's service industry.
As an increasing number of Asian students go studying in the UK, education starts to bring significant changes in relationship between this old European kingdom and Asia. Education in Great Britain, while earning large sums of capital to support the country's generous welfare system, creates batches of talent for Asian countries that once lagged way behind.
On the flight back to Bangkok, I read the latest issue of The Spectator magazine. Rajini Vaidyanathan, author of the cover story "A passage to India: Why I went east - and many other young British Asians are doing the same," is a British reporter with Indian parents now working in India herself. The cover blurb states "Thousands of young British Asians are seeking a better life in India. Rajini Vaidyanathan is one of them."
For those on their first trip to the UK, especially foreign students who overcame difficulties, collected tuition fees and got their UK visas, the cover cartoon on the magazine might appear exaggerated: A young Indian lady, with a cool look in her eyes and a briefcase in her hand, flings away her UK passport and sets foot on the shining way toward the East.
However, if you do have a talk with some Chinese students in the UK, you will feel what the cartoon depicts is the truth. At the Said Business School of Oxford University, a student from Shanghai told me emphatically: "I will definitely go back after graduation." Another Chinese student from Zhejiang Province said, "There are more opportunities in China than in the UK!"
At the moment, the UK is witnessing a shrinking number of job opportunities and changing immigrant policies. It can attract young people all over the world to study in this country, but can hardly provide enough opportunities for their further development. Some British complain that it is immigrants who "took away" their jobs, and the Conservative-led UK coalition government is adopting stricter restrictive policy on immigrant employment.
It is undeniable that UK education will rank among the top in the world for a fairly long time. This is based on various elements, such as historical and cultural accumulation, language advantages and the education system.
However, without a powerful source of opportunities for further development which helps keep well-educated talent, will the UK's future development be sustainable?
For the UK, the key of its future depends on whether the country will grant visas to more potential world-class talent. For countries like China and India, the key of their future lies in whether they can continue creating more opportunities and bring back talent abroad. It might be just a beginning of the war for talent between Europe and Asia.
The author is a senior editor with People's Daily. He is now stationed in Bangkok. firstname.lastname@example.org