Government turns to postgraduates to help companies export

Postgraduate students are to be recruited to help businesses across the country overcome the language and cultural barriers that stop them breaking into overseas markets, business secretary Vince Cable has announced.

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) will work with universities and business schools to identify students with language skills who can help UK exporters with tasks including making new international business contacts, advising on cultural etiquette and developing international facing websites.

Independent research by Professor Foreman-Peck from Cardiff Business School estimates that as much as £48 billion in international sales is lost every year because of language and cultural ignorance.

Cable says, ‘The ‘Made in Britain’ brand opens doors to UK firms around the world but a lack of language and cultural skills slams them shut in their faces. Our businesses have the potential to be economic powerhouses for the UK but their success is dependant on expanding beyond domestic markets.’

There are more than 400,000 non-UK students studying in the UK of which around half are studying at postgraduate level.

The top non-EU countries sending students to the UK are in high-growth export markets including China, India, and Nigeria. The most popular subjects for international students are business studies, engineering and technology.

UKTI has a language and cultural adviser in every region of the country who will act as a facilitator between companies and universities for the ‘Postgraduates for International Business’ scheme.

Lead language and cultural adviser for UKTI Suzannah Hutton says, ‘Recruiting an international student from the market you are trying to export to can have a dramatic affect on your business.

‘[That may be] undertaking market research, dealing with enquiries that arrive in a foreign language or making sure that you do not make a cultural faux pas when meeting international clients.’

Ravi Karia from online retailer Universal Textiles says, ‘UKTI helped us employ Julia, a German student studying at Leicester University, to help us with translation and customer service.

‘It was the best thing we have ever done as she helped grow our company turnover in Germany from 0 to £2 million. Having a native speaker meant that we were able to offer our German customers much better service than our rivals who use Google translate or external agencies that are more costly.’

Further reading on exporting

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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