Frankenstein's monster and the problem of international student recruitment

We all know that international students are vital to the diversity, and indeed sustainability, of UK universities.

The coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international recruitment has highlighted the fragility of this market and made it clear that we need to provide a better experience for international students from the moment they consider studying abroad.

Universities tend to recognise that international students, especially postgraduate applicants (who often have years of professional experience to add to their undergraduate degrees) are globally mobile citizens with the buying power to chose where they study. However, the irony is that, whilst universities compete to attract the best and brightest students, they are also putting numerous obstacles in their way.

Off-putting factors that international students have raised in our recent market research include: overly bureaucratic application processes, lengthy delays in responses, inability to speak with course directors or administrators, a doggedly rigid approach to fees and a lack of visibility of scholarships.

But perhaps a bigger problem is the growing influence of overseas agents on the UK’s international student recruitment. What started off as a convenient way to reach a challenging market and speak with students in a local voice has grown into a lucrative industry with the potential to create massive market distortions (as agents channel students towards particular institutions to maximise commissions and secure bonuses).

We could go as far as to say that the sector has created a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ with the development of this agent-led model and the result has been the commoditisation of students (which has reduced the power both of students and universities within the recruitment process).

UK university staff who responded to our recent survey highlighted ‘cost’ and ‘lack of control’ as the two major downsides to using agents. There is certainly a rising sense from both universities and students that they want greater transparency and control over the international student journey.

At UK University Services we are addressing these issues head-on with mission to end the agent-driven commoditisation of students.

Our new platform will disrupt the legacy agent-led business model, creating a student-led solution which serves to empower both students and university.

Find out more about our solution sign up here!

Image by freestocks

Rachel Burgon
Co-Founder & CEO
Published on 21 September 2020