Professor Sir Steve Smith

Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor at the University for Exeter appointed to prestigious new role as International Education Champion from September 2020

Professor Sir Steve Smith, the current Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter has accepted a highly prestigious appointment with the UK government from September 2020.

As International Education Champion, Sir Steve will have a leading role in a 10-year strategy to both increase the number of international students choosing to study in the UK higher education system to 600,000 and increase the value of education exports to £35 billion per year by 2030. The University of Exeter is delighted and proud with this appointment.

Two recent Higher Education Ministers, commenting on this “great appointment”, said that “every university looking back in wake of Covid-19 will be pleased at the news” (Jo Johnson) and Sir Steve was “an effective champion of the UK Higher Education sector internationally” (Sam Gyimah).  Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the Office for Students said that “Steve Smith is the right person at the right time - golden ages don’t have to be in the past”.

The role of International Education Champion will be to work with organisations across the breadth of the education sector, including universities, schools, the EdTech industry, vocational training, and early years schooling providers. Steve will also help target priority regions worldwide to build networks and promote the UK as the international education partner of choice. The role will additionally help to boost the numbers of international students in the UK.

The appointment of Sir Steve Smith fulfils a priority action from the International Education Strategy, published by the Department for Education and the Department for International Trade. Sir Steve will spearhead overseas activity and address a number of market access barriers on behalf of the whole education sector, including concerns over the global recognition of UK degrees and other qualifications. Sir Steve’s experience, knowledge and global connections will help to develop long-term relationships with international governments and overseas stakeholders.

In his new role, Sir Steve Smith will highlight exporting opportunities for the sector and help to address any challenges and barriers to growth. Education exports are currently valued at more than £21 billion per year and help to forge global and meaningful relationships. These underpin opportunities for the UK and international partners to develop, trade and collaborate. This will prove crucial as the UK begins to recover from the economic impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Professor Sir Steve Smith said:

“I am delighted to accept this role working with the UK government as International Education Champion at a critical time for the sector and with new opportunities to attract international students and make new connections around the globe.

“UK education is outstanding and my focus will be on promoting the whole sector from early years, primary and secondary education, further and higher education and the skills we can uniquely offer. Educational exports and international students contribute billions to our economy and enrich our society in so many different ways. I am truly excited by the prospect to enhance education here and across the world.”

On making the announcement Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said:

“International students are an integral part of our society, culture and economy and we are proud that so many international students come here every year to study. That is why I want to stress to overseas students at this unprecedented time that they will always be welcome in this country.

“Supporting international students is one of our top priorities and we are working hard to make sure we are as flexible as possible and make processes as easy as they can be, including around current visa regulations.

“Now, more than ever, it is critical we work together internationally, sharing our knowledge to mitigate the challenges we all face. I am delighted to announce Sir Steve Smith as the International Education Champion, a role that will be integral to our outward-looking approach to international education, from early years through to higher education.”

Minister for Exports, Graham Stuart MP said:

“I’d like to extend my congratulations to Sir Steve Smith on his new role as International Education Champion. I’m proud to lead the Department for International Trade’s education work and to have published our International Education Strategy with the appointment of a Champion at its heart. The UK’s education sector is world leading and world class, and we need to ensure that it stays that way.

“Education spending will continue to rise around the world and the UK is well placed to grow its exports and contribute to millions of lives. I look forward to working with Sir Steve to promote and highlight the UK as the international education partner of choice.

“International trade is critical to the UK’s coronavirus recovery plan and we need to ensure that our education sector plays a full role in meeting global need and helping both the UK and its partners to come back from the economic impacts of the virus.”

Colin Bell, Chief Executive of the Council for British International Schools, representing 500 schools and other organisations in UK and overseas, said:

“We are delighted with the appointment of Sir Steve Smith as the International Education Champion to represent UK international schools and all the elements of the highly globally respected UK international education sector overseas.”

Caroline Wright, Director General of the British Educational Suppliers Association, representing over 400 Educational Technology and other Education suppliers, said:

“I warmly welcome Professor Smith’s appointment. It shows the strength of commitment that the Department of International Trade has in supporting British education exports. From early years to higher education our education resources, institutions and language training are in demand around the world. I very much look forward to working with Professor Smith over the coming months to help champion the potential of the entire education export community.”

Sarah Turvill, Chair of Council and Pro-Chancellor at the University of Exeter said:

“We are delighted that Sir Steve Smith has been appointed to this prestigious national role and a critical role for the future of UK education around the globe. Sir Steve is an outstanding leader and has an exceptional knowledge of UK and international education. He will be absolutely fantastic in this role and we wish him all the best and look forward to continuing to work with him and supporting UK higher education on the international stage in the years ahead.”

Since October 2002, Professor Sir Steve Smith has led the transformation of the University of Exeter so that it is now ranked in the top 15 universities in the UK and the top 150 in the world. Student numbers have nearly doubled and the financial turnover has increased nearly five-fold. Today, the University injects more than £1.17bn into the economy and generates over 11,000 jobs in the South West, including over 5000 jobs in Exeter itself.

Sir Steve has made both a major contribution to education and research in the south west and through various national roles has helped shape the higher education sector we know today – one of the great success stories of the UK. From 2007 to 2010, he was a member of the Prime Minister’s National Council of Excellence in Education, which looked at how to best achieve world-class education performance for all children and young people.

Sir Steve’s position as International Education Champion is an unpaid role for an initial two years. He will hand over to the new Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter, Professor Lisa Roberts, on 1 September 2020.

Date: 8 June 2020

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