Britain was caught with its pants down when the coronavirus pandemic struck. There was an appalling lack of preparation from the government after having had a month of warning. But it does not need to be all doom and gloom, the pandemic has highlighted areas where Britain can emerge from the shadows of the USA and China and emerge as a leader in its own right.
When the dust has settled from the pandemic, Britain and her leaders must assess just where they want their focus to be. The EU will be eating at itself over the financial repercussions of the virus, which will if the government has any sense, necessitate it looking elsewhere for trading agreements and deals. This new global focus must be exploited to its fullest.
International students and international research collaboration already makeup 19.6% and 55.2% of the total student population and publication output respectively, a figure that can be expanded following this pandemic. This can be done through the development of new online systems that would not only allow potential students to undertake virtual tours of universities, but would also enable students across the globe to take part in courses at the university from the comfort of their own home learning at their own pace. Such online systems are already being trialled during the lockdown and though there are some problems, said problems can be overcome and reforms and enhancements made.
A global focus as highlighted by educational collaboration would also require Britain to encourage its companies such as Rolls Royce and Cadbury to take on a much more honest and approachable charitable aim within emerging markets. As Hilary DeVey has highlighted previously it is not enough to just donate to a charity and consider your work done, British businesses must have boots on the ground ensuring that emerging markets come out of the stone age and into the modern era in areas such as gender equality, working conditions and education. Their name will attract media attention which will always ensure the powers that be take them seriously. The efforts of these companies would alongside efforts by the British government-where there is oversight and not needless spending- bring benefit to the UK through showing that it is committed to progressive change and is a caring benefactor, unlike China or the US.
On the other side of the coin, the pandemic has highlighted the need for Britain to bring manufacturing home. The pandemic disrupted global supply chains, and particularly damaged China-the world’s main manufacturing hub- ability to get effective and safe goods out. Consequently, Britain has either had to get PPE from other countries or request that companies based in the UK produce their own. That countless companies within Britain have done this and not been taken up on their offers is embarrassing. Britain must learn from this and become a manufacturing nation once more. Whilst that may increase the cost of products, it would be worth it in the long term. Britain has quality standards that ensure products must meet a certain standard before they can be sold. British companies know these quality standards and know the consequences of not meeting them. Consequently, it is possible that goods manufactured in Britain would be of a far higher quality than anything made in China, and would also actually be readily available for consumption in times of emergency.
A cynic or an opportunist would argue that this development would ensure that Britain’s reputation globally would improve and would be held in stark contrast to China’s. For a country that is known to manufacture goods of a high quality would do far better on the global market, than one where the goods are manufactured cheaply, but are of a poor quality.
The pandemic has highlighted areas where Britain has advantages, it would be foolish not to take those advantages and use them for the nation’s benefit. Britain has spent too long in the shadows of other nations, it is time for it to emerge into the sun.