Postgraduate students will be recruited to help firms across the UK overcome language and cultural barriers to break into overseas markets, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced today.
Independent research by Professor Foreman-Peck of Cardiff Business School estimates £48b in international sales is lost every year because of language and cultural ignorance.
The research identifies these barriers as more likely to impact medium-sized businesses.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “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 medium-sized businesses have the potential to be economic powerhouses for the UK but their success is dependent on expanding beyond domestic markets.
“This important new initiative will help firms overcome the barriers that are a drag on growth and compete with the best the rest of the world has to offer.”
UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) will work with universities and business schools to identify students who can help UK exporters with tasks including making new international business contacts, advising on cultural etiquette and developing international facing websites.
There are over 400,000 non-UK students studying in the UK, with half studying at postgraduate level. In addition, there are British students with language skills either learned or from their background.
The top non-EU countries sending students to the UK are in high growth export markets like China, India, and Nigeria, with the most popular subjects for international students being business studies, engineering and technology.
Visa restrictions allow international students to work up to 20 hours during term time and full time during the holidays. The plans will see students using their significant break periods to engage in external work.
UKTI’s language and cultural advisers will act as facilitators between companies and universities for the Postgraduates for International Business scheme.
Lead Language and Cultural Adviser for UKTI Suzannah Hutton said:
“Recruiting an international student from the market you are trying to export to can have a dramatic affect on your business.
“Whether that is 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.
“UKTI stands ready to help any business who thinks they could benefit from this service.”
Ravi Karia from online retailer Universal Textiles said:
“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 zero to £2m.
“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.”
The new service is aimed at medium-sized businesses but open to companies of any size.
The CBI estimates if medium-sized businesses reach their full potential, it would be worth £20b to £50b to the UK economy.
Currently medium-sized businesses make up 0.5% of all businesses but contribute around a fifth of employment and turnover in the UK.
Last week Lord Livingston wrote to every medium-sized business in the country offering tailored trade advice and an intensive programme of support to help them start exporting and break new markets.