Diversifying, and tightening up, international recruitment

A new report from UUKi gives an insight into how universities are managing a broader recruitment pool

Michael Salmon is News Editor at Wonkhe

The government repeatedly professes to be keen on the sector diversifying its international recruitment away from China, despite a year of “low quality courses” rhetoric, policy floating, and last month’s changes to dependant visas, all of which impacted upon exactly the markets that universities have been seeking to move into over the last several years.

A timely report from Universities UK International (UUKi) presents survey findings and good practice guidance as to how exactly institutions are – or could be – drawing up and putting into practice their diversification strategies.

From a sample of 60 UUK members, responding in February, we learn that 45 per cent of respondents’ universities ask postgraduate students whether any dependants would travel with them, and another 17 per cent were considering doing so. UUKi suggests providers should consider this as a way to provide better advice and support. We also get some tricky-to-pull-off recommendations around accommodation planning:

Universities should align their international recruitment with their estates or facilities departments to facilitate better planning around accommodation and closer regional working with local authorities and other universities, particularly around accommodation suitable for families.

And also that:

Universities may also wish to encourage students with dependants to travel alone initially to find appropriate family accommodation, and then invite their dependants to join them.

Given that the ban on dependants for postgraduate taught courses won’t be in effect until January, the processes in place for September have become increasingly important.

Elsewhere, the survey found that 55 per cent of respondents’ institutions used the UK Agent Quality Framework – of note given the UK government’s stated intention to “clamp down on unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education.”

The spotting of such inappropriate applications is a theme throughout the report, in fact – elsewhere we get the finding that 57 per cent of institutions in the survey carried out interviews prior to issuing a student with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) – thought this is said to generally be “only for select domiciles.” These interviews varied in format, but some included “more intensive conversational elements” or checking for looking off camera and lip synching.

Also with an eye to ensuring that “applicants are genuine students and intent on studying,” the report recommends that institutions review deposit requirements alongside diversification plans. Those at institutions requiring international students to pay deposits reported that the deposit amount ranged from £3,500 to £14,000. This was the case at a large majority of respondents’ universities, though with a degree variation according to programme and level of study. Some 23 per cent also varied the amount of deposit required according to a student’s country of domicile – and nine per cent were considering doing so.

The report’s introduction notes the need for vigilance when it comes to countries typically deemed as “higher risk” by UKVI due to higher rates of visa refusals. The common thread running through the guidance is that diversification in recruitment needs to be accompanied by robust checks and systems. The Home Office is said to “strongly support” the sector’s attempts to diversify recruitment – until it doesn’t, history tends to suggest.

Returning to the question of agents, and the sometimes controversial use of agent aggregators or the subcontracting from agent to subagent, we get some helpful examples of the kind of practices institutions are deploying to manage risk here. This includes contractual stipulation that the use of subagents is declared, annual reviews, or monthly “check ins”. Some 55 per cent of respondents said that their institution used agent aggregators or subagents.

While we have no details as to the government’s plans for a clampdown, it is clear that across the sector there’s both a sizeable recourse to agents for international recruitment (one indicative example given is a university working with 200 agents across 80 countries) and that a lot of thought going into due diligence in many providers.

4 responses to “Diversifying, and tightening up, international recruitment

  1. I am a little sceptical of the discussions of diversification. What exactly is meant by that? And if it’s about reducing reliance on one or two international markets at PGT, then the most important market to grow is surely the UK market, yet that is almost never mentioned in discussions of “diversification”.

    1. And you are ‘surprised’? FOLLOW THE MONEY and the greatest income/profit potential, UK undergrads and PGT are the poor relations when it comes to money grubbing Universities and their councils.

  2. UK PGT market continues to fall. With UK undergraduates leaving with +£40.0k debt and a buoyant employment market, is it surprising.

  3. Every Uni wants further diversity, it’s a no brainer financially, in terms of risk and student experience, but the reality is that it is much easier said than done. The fact is that India, Nigeria and China are the three “huge” markets, and depending on Uni ranking/status etc, one or maybe two of these markets will be the main supplier of students. Other markets in South Asia can supply healthy numbers, but is this really diversity? I think so, but others may feel it’s the further exploration of Lat Am, North America, the “Stans”, either way, the UK’s ability to keep recruiting big numbers heavily depends on the Govt’s policies, and with dependants now removed from 2024, this won’t help diversity agendas, and no amount of lobbying from BUILA, UUKi etc will make a difference when it’s all about politics and vote winning, we just saw that happen. Unis need overseas students to stay afloat, diversity will always take the back seat to this.

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