UK leaning more on private providers for overseas recruitment

Report attributes shift to dependency on international fees and heightened competition

October 11, 2022
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Almost half of UK universities increased their use of private providers to recruit international students during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report.

The report’s authors say more dependency on international student tuition fees together with heightened competition for students is pushing many institutions to look for solutions from the private sector.

However, they warn that confidence in providers remains a hurdle in forming and managing these partnerships. 

The report from educational management consultancy Nous, Oxford International Education Group and Universities UK International surveyed 61 institutions across the UK which together made up roughly half of all international enrolments in the UK in the 2020-21 academic year.

From the sample, researchers found that 47 per cent used more private providers in their international student recruitment efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Almost three-quarters of respondents cited “increased competition” as a key reason for turning to private providers.

“International recruitment teams are increasingly pressed to deliver bigger results without corresponding investments in resources, which forces innovative thinking about the role the private sector can play,” said Nous higher education principal Matt Durnin.

“This trend was in motion before 2020, but the pandemic and a surge of venture capital into educational services in recent years have accelerated the development of private provider services.

“While most universities recognise the value in engaging private providers, satisfaction with different provider types is mixed and trust can be a hurdle.”

Other motivating factors were the need to reduce carbon footprints and address capability shortfalls.

Apart from China, respondents thought private sector support would be most crucial in India, Nigeria and Pakistan in the immediate future.

Despite the increasing reliance, researchers found that satisfaction with private providers was “mixed” – with those surveyed being most satisfied with local representation, offshore academic delivery and pathway providers.

Meanwhile, just 37 per cent were satisfied with agent aggregators – the lowest of the 10 types that were polled.

“Communication and coordination between senior management and international recruitment leads is key, and more transparency is needed from service providers to build trust and confidence,” said Charley Robinson, head of global mobility at Universities UK International.

“With the increase of education technology, private investment and innovation in the sphere of public-private partnerships, new opportunities are arising to address emerging challenges in recruiting internationally.”

The report also found that institutions ranked in the mid tier of major global rankings were the most likely to engage with private providers.

Larger, higher-ranking universities remain more hesitant until the private sector has proved its value, it says, while lower-ranked universities are also reluctant because they lack sufficient resources.

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