A new organisation is seeking to drive agents out of international student recruitment by providing a “matchmaking” platform that its founder says will “significantly” reduce costs for universities and learners.
David Wheeler, the former president of Canada’s Cape Breton University, said that the International Higher Education Group would give students more choice when deciding which university to attend, and enable them to access discounts on tuition fees and scholarships.
International students will be able to join the platform, which is expected to be launched later this year, for free. Universities will offer scholarships to students, according to their interests in promoting particular programmes, which will largely be funded through savings made on agent fees.
Professor Wheeler, the new organisation’s chairman, said that the first year of a degree taken via the programme would be completed via free online courses, reducing tuition fees, with the student enrolling at a university’s main campus to complete their course.
“The student saves money and the university gets the assurance that the student is able to learn in English in Western degree formats, albeit online,” he said.
Professor Wheeler argued that the platform would give students “a much larger number of universities to choose from in different geographical locations than might be provided by a single agent representing a handful of institutions”.
While discussions with universities are still under way, Professor Wheeler said that he expects that the initial members will consist of 20 to 30 US institutions, 10 Canadian institutions and 10 UK institutions in the “next couple of months”, as well as “hopefully” some Australian institutions.
The company will be funded by annual university membership fees of about $50,000 (£38,800) per institution, subject to ratification by the founding members. Professor Wheeler said that he expects this will generate “a return on investment in excess of around 20-fold for most mid-sized institutions”.
“I am expecting no more than 75 universities internationally in the first year or two. On the student side, I am expecting hundreds of thousands to join the platform because it’s no cost to them and there are obviously significant benefits,” he said. “Think of it like matchmaking.”
He added that the platform will form a “club” for universities and enable them to collaborate on teacher and student exchanges, international research projects and joint delivery of degree programmes.
Professor Wheeler, who is from the UK and was pro vice-chancellor and dean of business at Plymouth University between 2010 and 2013, said that one of the main issues with the current system around international student recruitment is that “agents are charging more and more money to the universities and even charging individual students and their families fees” just to help them with the university application process.
“It’s always seemed to me that this was a potentially unhelpful and inefficient way to match student needs with the universities,” he said.
While the site will be accessible to all international students, Professor Wheeler said that he thinks the model will be particularly attractive to those from emerging economies who are looking to study in the West.