For most universities in the UK, working with international student recruitment agencies is common practice. Securing international students has its many benefits, such as developing global brand awareness, fostering higher education institutions as hubs for social inclusivity and, quite significantly, increasing revenue from international fees. It’s been estimated the total economic benefit of international students to the UK economy is £22.6bn over the entire duration of their studies, of which £5.1bn is generated by EU students, and £17.5bn is generated by non-EU students. According to a report by the British Council, the Observatory on Borderless Education found that 40% of these students are recruited by international student recruitment agents, making them an essential addition to universities’ international teams.
Agents offer the benefit of having local knowledge and therefore act as the bridge between cultures. Universities rely on agents’ competence in different languages to help interview prospective students and organise local events. Evidently, they offer many localised benefits to higher education institutions.
Students are equally reliant on agents, turning to them to help arrange their study abroad, either because they lack knowledge and understanding of overseas education systems or because they lack the time or confidence needed to complete the necessary formalities, especially visa application procedures.
However, research has indicated that universities are paying as much as £120 million a year to recruitment agents to attract foreign students into the UK. It’s worth raising the question, to what extent are universities maximising their profits through their investments into recruitment agencies?
In an investigation into international recruitment agencies, The Daily Telegraph discovered that agents were able to secure places for foreign students who did not achieve the same grades that were required from home students. Quantity over quality comes into play here as universities end up enrolling students who do not always necessarily meet the high standards set by the institutions in order to meet the international student enrolment quota.
In addition, the British Council’s report outlines other uncertainties involved with working with agents to recruit foreign students. It is the job of the agent to represent the institution abroad, so universities have to be comfortable enough to trust that they do not misrepresent who they are and what they stand for; the use of third parties to promote universities means that institutions have less direct control over their marketability overseas as promotional activity is predominantly controlled by the agents. The primary concern that is outlined by the report about the use of international student recruitment agencies is “the current lack of transparency about their use by universities could cause significant harm to the university sector.”
What universities need is a solution that enables them to have more direct control over international recruitment efforts, so that they can ensure an accurate and controlled representation of their institution and streamline applications so they can select the best students who meet their standards.
One way in which universities could manage their international student intake more effectively is to consider other alternatives. For example, Proodle Solutions have created a university-branded custom application to help higher education recruitment specialists to track, engage and directly recruit international students, connecting them to prospects through their mobile devices.
Through the mobile app, universities are able to provide a true representation of themselves as they can edit course details, provide virtual tours of their institutions and communicate directly with prospective students to provide accurate answers to any queries they have.
Of course, many universities have established great working relationships with various recruitment agencies and so may be reluctant to look at other options. However, we aim for universities to maintain strong professional relationships with their tried and tested partners whilst providing agents with the perfect tool to represent institutions in the most truthful way possible.
So, whilst using recruitment agencies to enrol foreign students has been a popular method with universities for a while now, maybe it’s time that universities look forward and focus on solutions that will benefit them financially and skilfully. If universities want the best outcomes, perhaps they should consider alternatives to increase the profitability of collaborating with international recruitment agents to maximise revenue and the quality of students.