Exporting the English language and methods of learning could soon become one of the UK's top foreign currency earners, with China viewed as the key market, British finance minister Gordon Brown said yesterday.
In the past five years, British export earnings through education have almost doubled to more than ?10 billion (US$19 billion) a year, Brown announced during a visit to China.
This was already about 1 percent of Britain's entire GDP, and four percent of its exports, and the figures were still growing fast, Chancellor of the Exchequer Brown said.
"On current trends, by 2020, education could amount for more export earnings [to Britain] than financial services," Brown said in a statement in Beijing.
By 2020, education could contribute more than ?50 billion a year to the country's economy, not far short of 2 percent of total GDP.
Much of this growth would come through selling perhaps the country's most lucrative birthright -- the English language -- with China a key market thanks to its combination of a huge thirst for English and massive numbers of potential pupils.
Currently, more Chinese students learn English than British ones, while an estimated 300 million Chinese already speak the language, said Brown, who left Beijing for Shanghai yesterday.
"In 20 years' time, the number of English speakers in China is likely to exceed the numbers of speakers of English as a first language in all of the rest of the world," Brown said.
This was "a huge opportunity for Britain," the finance minister said, unveiling a series of measures to help the country cash in on the craze for speaking its language.
Among these is a plan to "twin" every school and college in England with a parallel education establishment overseas in the next five years, while teaching schemes such as Web sites run by cultural organization the British Council will be expanded.
For China, in particular, its students attending British universities will now be able to stay on and work for a year after completing their courses, Brown announced.
The deal -- reciprocated for British students in China -- is aimed at helping British universities beat off stiff competition from US and Australian establishments in attracting valuable, fee-paying Chinese students.
By 2020, the overseas sales of British educational products such as books and computer packages could be worth ?10 billion a year to the country's economy, Brown predicted.
The chancellor flew into Beijing on Monday. Brown, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations' club, also raised the issue of China's policy of fixing its currency, the yuan, at a pegged rate against the dollar.
He heads to Shenzhen today before flying home from adjoining Hong Kong.