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Recruiting Intelligence

The British Are Coming

Yes, we know that Paul Revere did not actually shout, "The British are coming." But that's how we felt after reading the latest report on International education strategy: global growth and prosperity, published by the UK Ministry of Education. Let us say right up front that we were impressed.
The report has a refreshing, comprehensive, upbeat focus and offers a competitive spirit supporting the importance of British higher education in the world and what the sector can contribute to the UK economy.
We miss that spirit of enthusiasm, energy and competitiveness in our U.S. discussions. Who would have thought that our European colleagues could be quite a bit more entrepreneurial than we are here in the U.S.

Yes, we have our Ivy Leagues and big brand names and we will never be concerned about a dearth of applications to Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and the other 50 Top U.S. university brands. But we have more than 4,000 other 2- and 4-year institutions to consider here in the U.S.

The UK report looks at all aspects of the education system that can contribute to the growth of "export service revenues ranging from high schools, language schools to colleges and universities as well as technology driven education solutions."

The summary of the report is very clear and we are quoting directly and extensively: "The UK strategy sets out how the government and the whole education sector will work together to take advantage of new opportunities around the globe. It aims to build on our strengths in higher and further education, in our schools overseas, in our educational technology and products and services, and in delivering English language training."

The strategy covers:

  • A warm welcome for international students: explaining that there is no cap on the number of international students who can come to the UK, and support for international students when things go wrong in their home country;
  • Support for transnational education: supporting British schools and colleges operating overseas, developing ‘end-to-end’ English language training, and strengthening quality assurance
  • Leading the world in education technology: actively encouraging development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and launching a design call, through the Technology Strategy Board, on commercialising education technology
  • A new relationship with emerging powers: prioritising UK engagement with key partners, doubling investment in developing higher education partnerships and expanding the number of Chevening scholarships for study in the UK
  • Building the UK brand and seizing opportunities: developing a new ‘Education is GREAT Britain’ campaign, and the Education UK Unit will help build consortia to take up high value opportunities overseas

This will ensure the UK economy grows along with their wider links with partners around the world. Figure 2.11 from the report below shows the different growth scenarios for the student enrollment in the UK. While there is a wide range of outcomes projected, it seems a strong case for continued growth of international enrollment and student movement to the UK. As mentioned, this report is looking comprehensively at different education offers, including English Language Courses. Figure 2.1 at the bottom also looks at the cost competitiveness of the UK English courses relative to other countries and you will note that the UK courses charge roughly 15% more compared with North American offers. It's useful to keep an eye on your price competitiveness.

The role of education agents is directly addressed in the document. In contrast to our "moralistic" debate in the U.S., the report looks at the use of agents very pragmatically and seeks to manage and solve the issues related to any commission-based compensation. Anyone one from our readership who loved paying the commission to his/her real estate agent here in the United States? We all seem to have a natural bias to think we can avoid paying commissions for services.

The report states that education agents operate extensively in all the key international student recruitment markets and play a major role in recruiting students to UK universities, colleges and independent schools. Agents offer a cost-effective approach to the challenge of recruiting simultaneously in a range of countries, and provide valuable local knowledge and routes for connecting with potential students.

British Council research found that 40% of students considering studying in the UK have used or planned to use the services of an education agent. The use of agents is strong in countries like China and India. In those countries, students and parents use agents to arrange study abroad either because they lack knowledge and understanding of the different education systems or because they lack the time or confidence to complete the necessary formalities without help.

The report continues that instead of government regulation, "best practice in the HE sector advocates improvement through greater signposting and information on use of agents, strong oversight of agent activities by individual universities and transparency in the use of agents, including the commissions paid. The British Council’s website provides guidance on the use of agents and a list of agents that have undertaken their training and continuous development program."

We, as a specialized service provider, advocate a strong and broad portfolio approach to recruiting international students. We advise our clients to be sure they professionally manage the range of international recruitment operations they incorporate into their enrollment strategy. For many schools without large budgets, brand recognition and/or high rankings, commission-based agents can be an effective recruitment channel that needs to be supported, managed and controlled.

If you sign up agents with little connection to and oversight from your institution, you can be confident the process and relationship will yield poor results. And that is the kindest way to say it. Chances are, you are setting yourself up for a disaster.

With a well managed agent network of any size, the final admission decision always lies with the school. In doubt about a prospect provided by an agent? A Skype call from an experienced admissions officer with that student can be more valuable than any transcript, essay or letter of recommendation.

We respect the coordinated, thoughtful, energetic and positive approach the British education sector presented for marketing its services to the rest of the world.

Topics: Insights