Leader: Calling in the experts

May 19, 2006

Outsourcing is always regarded with suspicion in the public services.

Private providers are assumed to be cutting corners to make a profit from work done more knowledgeably and conscientiously in-house. The service centre planned to handle overseas student inquiries at six universities from this autumn should be an exception. The Australian version has universities queuing up to join and does not appear to have cost jobs, because much of its work was simply not done previously.

If UK universities are to meet the challenging new target set by Tony Blair, they will have to become more professional about their international activities. Competition has grown more intense and some of the most fertile recruiting grounds are becoming more interested in developing their own provision. Some universities are dangerously reliant on a small number of countries, while others put their faith in largely unproven overseas recruiting missions and often unreliable agents. Most lack basic information, such as the proportion of those making inquiries who eventually enrol, because personal contacts are delegated to academic departments.

By using a specialised service, universities can maximise opportunities and compare success rates with those of their peers. Not every university activity is best done on campus.

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