Coventry official warns of 'risky' foreign recruiting

Universities that rely on large intake from one country are vulnerable, senior figure warns. John Gill reports.

January 24, 2008

Some higher education institutions are taking a "dangerous" gamble by recruiting too many of their international students from one country, a senior university administrator has warned.

David Gillingham, Coventry University's pro vice-chancellor for enterprise, said: "Universities are more aggressive in recruiting international students, but some are taking fairly high risks (by) taking large numbers from single countries.

"I know there are institutions with close to 1,000 students from China, and such a strategy is highly risky. You need only a minor crisis of some sort and the market's gone; disease, a change of government policy in China - all sorts of things can happen overnight.

"It's not good sense to have more than 20 per cent from any one country, but there are certainly half a dozen or so (UK institutions that fall into that category)."

Foreign Students in UK Higher Education 2006-2007
Country of domicileNo. students
China 49,595
India 23,835
Republic of Ireland 16,255
Greece 16,050
US 15,955
Germany 14,010
France 13,070
Malaysia 11,810
Nigeria 11,135
Hong Kong 9,640
Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency

Although Professor Gillingham declined to name any institutions, Times Higher Education understands that seven UK universities have more than 1,000 Chinese students, including the universities of Warwick, Manchester and Loughborough. The top ten recruiters of Chinese students account for 12,000 of the 50,700 studying in the UK - 24 per cent of the total.

In 2006-07, 15 per cent of all students at UK institutions were from countries outside the European Union.

Professor Gillingham said that Coventry, like many others, had suffered in the late 1990s, when a financial crisis in South-East Asia precipitated a dramatic decline in the number of students coming to Britain from the region.

"In our case, we had hundreds of students from Malaysia, and overnight we went down to 50 or 60," he said. "Many institutions learnt a lesson ... but some seem not to have taken note."

He said that Coventry takes no more than 15 per cent of its foreign students from any one country, and actively seeks new markets.

"China and India are the two big ones, but Nigeria is becoming very large business, despite all the difficulties there. At many universities, Nigeria is now the number three - but once again you have to be aware of the danger of dependency."

Drummond Bone, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, which set up a new university with Xi'an Jiaotong University in China in 2006, said: "We all remember the Malaysia problem, and it's absolutely right that universities should be looking for a balanced portfolio of international students.

"Balance is - intellectually, culturally and from a business point of view - nothing but a good thing."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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