Whatever your views about the UK’s readiness to take advantage of its new position outside the EU, there are many aspects of our economy where UK PLC is already a leading global brand: language, literature, music, television and the arts are among them but what about our role in education? Paul Jagger FBCS CITP, Business Area Manager for IBM Learning Development, investigates.

While this article doesn’t attempt to capture every aspect of the UK’s global reputation in education, training and workplace learning one doesn’t have to look too far or too hard to find ample evidence of the UK’s leading role at global scale. A few highlights include:

In higher education and research

The UK has a reputation for excellence in academia and scientific research. Cambridge University has provided a total of 93 Nobel Laureates, Oxford has provided 51, London 30, Manchester 25, Edinburgh 20, Imperial 16, Kings 12, Bristol 8 and Glasgow 7. A staggering one-third of all 900 Nobel laureates are affiliated with a UK university as a student, researcher or educator. (Nobel Foundation, 2016).

Further evidence of the UK’s position as a global leader in higher education may be found in the QS World University Rankings for 2016. Of the world’s top 10 universities 4 are in the UK, 5 are in the USA and 1 in Switzerland (notably outside the EU). Among the top 30 universities there are 7 in the UK, 15 in the USA and none from EU countries. In fact there only 1 university located in an EU country (other than the UK) is to be found among the top 50 (QS, 2016).

The Open University is also a beacon of excellence for distance learning and open access in the UK and globally, particularly in developing economies in Africa and Asia. The OU’s role as a global education is one it has developed over two decades.
The UK is also the leading destination in Europe for international students will 11 per cent of the total international student population choosing the UK in 2014 compared with 18 per cent choosing the USA. The next most popular European countries were France (7 per cent) and Germany (5 per cent), according to the British Council in 2014.

Note: Whilst there are several respected university ranking models the QS World University Rankings is the only one to have received International Ranking Expert Group approval.

In secondary education

Surprising as it may be, the UK’s examination awarding bodies have a significant presence outside the UK. There are many counties, including much of the Commonwealth, that still use the GCE ‘O’ Level in secondary education, the Cambridge International GCSE is also used in over 120 countries, as is the GCE ‘A’ Level in over 125 countries. In the field of secondary education examination and awarding the UK leads the world.

Figures reported in the Daily Telegraph (2015) revealed 44,000 foreign students are now studying at private schools in the UK, which is about 21 per cent of the total in private education.

In vocational education and occupational training

The UK also has a leading role in vocation training throughout the world across an exceptionally varied range of trades. The City and Guilds of London Institute (City & Guilds) operates in over 80 countries and at any one time has awarded qualifications to over twenty million students since the year 2,000 (City & Guilds, 2016).

In the diverse field of occupational training the UK is again found to be a leading centre for education, training, professional development and qualification. The UK’s legal, medical and accountancy professions are the gold standard to which other countries look for best practice.

The same is true in many less well-known fields as eclectic as the maintenance of navigation and safety markers at sea, and the care and shoeing of horses hooves (it’s true and your preferred search engine will permit further discovery).

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union (EU) is does so from the position of being a long-standing global leader in education, training, examination and assessment. The UK is the most attractive European destination for international students, the dominant exporter of secondary education qualifications, home of the world’s leading vocational awarding body and many of the professions that set the standard globally. In the fields of compulsory and higher education the UK already has a world-class reputation, it sells its education products and attracts students from far beyond the EU.

So far so good, but what about the UK’s readiness to capitalise on the global workplace L&D market, especially as it relates to technology?

What’s the picture for global L&D spending?

The workplace L&D market is currently experiencing a period of sustained growth. In the four years to end of 2015 the L&D market experienced year-on-year double-digit growth as business see skills as a critical to transformation (Bersin by Deloitte, 2016). In particular spending on Learning Technologies increased by 21 per cent in 2014 as employers started to invest heavily in a growing trend to migrate to, expand or upgrade technology enabled learning system (Bersin by Deloitte, 2016).

Where is the global workplace L&D budget spent?

Accurate figures for the total amount spent on workplace L&D are exceptionally difficult to find, and invariably based upon fragmentary data and extrapolations. What counts as L&D often spans everything from driving lessons to post-doctoral research, further diluting the accuracy of spending estimates. The situation is also complicated by the fact that most learning takes place on the job, and is not formalised or the result of a directly funded learning programme.

That said, the global distribution of the workplace L&D budget is reasonably reliable and consistently reported. The global workplace L&D market is estimated to be between $355B USD up 10.4 per cent on 2014 (TrainingIndustry.com, 2015). Three quarters of the spend is made in the USA and Europe and less than one-fifth is spent in Indian, China and the rest of South East Asia despite being the world’s most populous regions (TrainingIndustry.com, 2015).

How important is L&D in the global workplace?

The Deloitte Human Capital Trends report (2015) identified workplace L&D as being among the top three priorities for among 3,300 business and HR leaders surveyed across 106 countries. In fact the joint first place priorities were also linked to L&D: Cultural Change and Leadership. So L&D touches directly upon the top three priorities for business in the global economy.

What’s the opportunity for L&D in IT?

Training on IT topics continues to the largest area of workplace L&D budget spend and all indications are that it will remain the major area of spending in the coming years. Irrespective of the subject matter, the use of technology for the design, development, deployment and delivery of all forms of training is extremely well developed. Figures from Training Magazine (2015) reveal 73 per cent of business now use a learning management system, 72 per cent deploy learning through virtual classroom, webcasting or video, 51 per cent deploy self-paced eLearning and 40 per cent use application simulation.

How well placed are the UK L&D outsourcing suppliers to grow in the global market?

While the UK is home to many workplace L&D outsourcing suppliers, few have broken in to the global top 20 list, this reflects a somewhat parochial approach to the L&D market by UK suppliers. For the years 2014-2015 only three companies entered TrainingIndustry.com’s top 20: Knowledge Pool, Reed and QA.

The top 20 list is dominated by major US business including IBM, Skillsoft, Pearson, Raytheon, GP Strategies among others. All of these major US players have a significant footprint in the UK economy. The cultural norm for US based businesses, especially in the tech sector is to start life with a global strategy; this is far less often the case for their UK counterparts.

The L&D outsourcing vendors who are located in the UK have the advantage of operating in the most competitive of Europe’s economies, in proximity to the world’s largest financial and professional services centre (the City of London) and have the advantage of working in the world’s de facto language of education and commerce. The UK is also recognised as a centre of excellence for IT Governance, Information Security, IT Service Management and the implementation of IT skills frameworks. On that topic…

Let’s not forget SFIA

The Skills Framework for the Information Age is a much underrated jewel in the global IT profession - one that was mined, cut and polished to a brilliant standard in the UK. It continues to be funded by four UK based professional organisations but has been adopted by tens of thousands of organisations in over 100 countries. SFIA provides the skills taxonomy for the global IT profession and can be freely used for a myriad of workplace L&D planning for IT practitioners.

SFIA is used by academia, by awarding bodies and L&D suppliers as the common language for education, training and skills in the IT profession. Nothing in the market comes close to SFIA for global reach, comprehensiveness and flexibility; it is an asset that the UK L&D suppliers can use to grow their market to anywhere that IT knowledge and skills are required among the workforce.


The UK is uniquely positioned to capitalise on its role as a global centre of excellence for education. The UK already has a first class reputation in vocational, secondary and higher education and our L&D outsourcing suppliers are second only to those in the USA. We have the advantage of our language, our reputation for excellence, our connections with the world’s biggest cultural association (the Commonwealth) and the world’s leading financial and professional services centre right here at home.

Our nation’s role as a bridge between Europe and North America will continue even after we leave the EU and we do so as the L&D market is growing and investment in technology as an enabler of learning is among the top 3 challenges that global businesses face. The global opportunity is there for the taking, and the UK is better positioned than any other country in the EU to capitalise on it.