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UK: operational shift in diversify drive mapped

Nine in 10 UK universities in a recent survey have indicated they are diversifying international student recruitment, a new research paper has found.

More than half (55%) of respondents said they worked with agent aggregators or agents using a subagent model. Photo: pexels

Some 57% of respondents said their institution carried out pre-CAS interviews

The UUK Diversification and strengthening international recruitment practices report, which saw responses from 60 of the organisation’s members, found the US, India and Malaysia as the countries most commonly mentioned by respondents when asked where they were diversifying their recruitment.

It noted “a very wide range of markets” were listed by respondents, including 40 different countries, while institutions are making changes to application processes in a bid to “ensure that their recruitment practices keep pace with the changing global market and applicant behaviour”.

The report highlights “the important work being done by university professionals to share and learn from best practice”, Jamie Arrowsmith, director of UUKi, said.

“This is key to diversifying recruitment and creating new opportunities for international talent to study in the UK, while maintaining confidence in the student immigration system.”

Some 49% of respondents said their university had “reformed application processes to reflect different application cycles and ‘late’ markets”, while a further 20% indicated they were considering do so.

Having multiple, staged application rounds throughout the year instead of one round was the most frequently mentioned change, with others including adapting CAS issuance deadlines; setting earlier deadlines for high demand courses and deadlines for students’ deposit payments; and introducing the ability to close programs by applications by domicile.

Half of all respondents say they had introduced new scholarships to support diversified international recruitment, with an additional 22% saying it was a move they are considering.

The report proposed “strengthened application processing and credibility and scrutiny protocols” through increased use of pre-CAS interviews as one example of how providers can maintain high levels of compliance with UKVI.

Expanding in-country presence and establishing strategic groups tasked with intervening with challenges were proposed as other examples of good practice.

Close to all respondents (96%) said that they require deposits from at least some international students. The report suggests institutions may wish to review their deposit requirements alongside their diversification plans to “help ensure applicants are genuine students and intent on studying”.

Former UK universities minister, Lord Jo Johnson, recently touted a Canada-style guaranteed investment certificate model as something that would “help address related problems of fraud and the lack of diversification in our system”.

“The diversity of provision in the sector means that universities will take different approaches to requiring deposits, but they can be a helpful way of managing risk,” the report reads.

Deposits also reduce the amount of tuition fees still to pay post-arrival, which the report says could “ease pressure on funding living costs and help ensure that students have access to the funds needed to undertake their studies”.

It will also mean that students are less likely to transfer out of the degree programs due to higher upfront costs, it added.

Pre-CAS checks and interviews can also be useful for institutions. Some 57% of respondents said their institution carried out pre-CAS interviews. A total of 42% said they carried out the interviews only for select domiciles, while 12% says the do so only for select programs and select domiciles.

Some 39% of respondents said they do not carry out pre-CAS interviews.

It also surveyed the institutions on the use of agents, finding a “wide variety” of activity with them.

Agents are being utilised in new or target markets, and some respondents acknowledged they were capping numbers for some specific programs or domiciles.

Of the 60 institutional respondents, 55% said they were using the voluntary UK Agent Quality Framework, including incorporating it into agent contracts, using it to review policies and processes and in agent training.

“Universities using aggregators may wish to consider how they can increase transparency and maintain quality”

The same proportion said they were working with agent aggregators or agents using subagent models.

“Universities who do use agent aggregators or a subagent model may wish to consider how they can increase transparency and maintain quality,” the report added.

Examples of emerging practice the report identified included agent contracts featuring clauses to say main agents are responsible for training subagents and ensuring they are “compliant with local laws and terms under the contract”.

One university said it is holding monthly check-in meetings to look at conversion rates and any application issues and review quality and conversion rates, while another has recently recruited a dedicated agent compliance manager.

Respondents pointed to ongoing monitoring of application quality and volume, enrolment ratios, non-compliance post-enrolment and visa refusals and annual agent reviews as means to maintain quality.

“It is important that, as a sector, we are committed to continuously improving our recruitment practices to ensure that we sustain our exceptionally high levels of compliance with visa and immigration requirements,” Arrowsmith concluded.

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