“I’ve yet to see a more challenging time for the sector than now”
My international education began aged 19, writes the the director of the British Council in Malaysia Jazreel Goh. I was whisked 6,000 km from the comfort of home in Malaysia to Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia.
Back then, I never imagined I was part of an industry or that I contributed to Australian exports. It didn’t strike me that transferring a student from one country to another could be a business model. Thirty years later, here I am, immersed in what others describe as the big business of international education.
“Make sure that you deliver on your promise. Reputation can be your best asset, or your Achilles heel”
The British Council recognises the usefulness of education agents and consultants, and as well as compiling a database of trustworthy agents for students’ use, it trains agents on best practice and how to operate in the UK. A new tool is now running online to guide professionals through the UK education landscape.
Helen Obaje has worked with the British Council for ten years and specialises in the training of agents in the international education sector. She is the designer of a new online course for agents, advisors and counsellors launched by the British Council.
Here are Helen’s top five tips for agents thinking of expanding their business in the UK:
1. Keep up to date
Education is not static, nor is it consistent across the UK with different education systems in the country’s different nations. The best agents are those who are consistently in touch with the changes within the areas they operate.
There are a variety of resources from different bodies that can help you keep on top of new regulations and new products: the UK Council for International Student Affairs, StudyUK:Discover You and visa and immigration information from UKVI are among them.
Be sure to stay on top of changes within the institutions that you represent, don’t just assume that because they are your client that you know them inside out. Take advantage of all the support and training that UK institutions provide and keep an eye out for fam trips. These are a great opportunity to get information on the ground so take advantage whenever possible.
So much of this job relies on relationships: the ones you have with students, their families and institutions. You need to think long term about what is it that you can do to help build and develop your relationship with the institution you are working with.
Think about how regularly you keep in touch with people and by what means. There is no replacing quality face to face time, but equally you cannot be everywhere at once, so a balance needs to be struck.
3. Do you fit?
We are all clear on the importance of matching the student to the right institution and course, but this also applies to agencies. Why should an institution work with you and what do you bring to the table? You need to be able to help the institution meet its goals and ensure that students are happy and successful. A large part of this involves making sure that you and what you offer are properly suited to the organisations with which you are working. Losing track of this is of no benefit to you or your clients.
Make sure that you deliver on what you promise. Your reputation can be your best asset or your Achilles heel. Word gets around the industry swiftly and it is far easier and quicker to lose a good reputation than to rebuild one. Make sure you stay realistic in what you can achieve and never feel pressured into making plans or promising figures that may seem impressive but will never be reached.
5. Believe in the UK
It is the home of the English language with a reputation for academic excellence and cultural diversity, but don’t just take our word for it. Students are the proof of the quality of a UK education. UUK International reports that satisfaction rates in their 2015/2016 cohort were 91 per cent for undergrads and 90 per cent for postgrads. This is higher than the satisfaction ratings for the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as major European countries.
And on top of the quality of education there are plenty of other factors drawing people to study here such as the culture, society history and infrastructure.
“We need to address the gap in qualified ESL teachers and the issues around ensuring the quality of ESL schools”
Mike Cabigon is the manager of English for Education Systems of British Council Philippines. He writes about a roundtable event organised by the British Council, where sector stakeholders weighed in on what needs to be done to ensure the Philippines retains its competitive advantage.
The Philippines is recognized globally as one of the largest English-speaking nations, with the majority of its population having at least some degree of fluency in the language. English has always been one of the country’s official languages, and is spoken by more than 14 million Filipinos. It is the language of commerce and law, as well as the primary medium of instruction in education. Read More
“The state of student mobility from South Asia to the UK has been a nearly endless series of bad news since 2011, but green shoots in Bangladesh suggest that the region be set for growth again”
The following is an extract from the British Council’s Education in East Asia – By the Numbers report, ‘Is South Asia’s student mobility market set for growth?’, written by Jeremy Chan, Regional Head of Research and Consultancy, East Asia at the British Council. The British Council’s Services for International Education Marketing (SIEM) team helps UK institutions refine their internationalisation strategies to succeed in East Asia and around the globe. The full report is available to registered members of the British Council website here.
The state of student mobility from South Asia to the UK has been a nearly endless series of bad news since 2011, but green shoots in Bangladesh suggest that the region may have bottomed out and be set for growth again. This rebound comes not a moment too soon – and perhaps two years too late – as South Asia will be the most important growth market for international student mobility for the foreseeable future and has already recorded rapid rises in enrolments in Australia, the US and Canada since 2013. The UK cannot afford to fall any further behind.
“This rebound comes not a moment too soon – and perhaps two years too late – as South Asia will be the most important growth market for international student mobility for the foreseeable future”
For the UK, the South Asia region has made for a wild ride since 2009, when issuance of long-term UK study visas began to surge, only to collapse again two years later. Today, the region issues some 40 per cent fewer visas than it did in 2005, and more than 80 per cent fewer visas than it did at its peak in the middle of 2010. Demand for UK education continues to decline in four of the five countries in the region – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal – albeit at a slowing rate. More encouragingly, strong growth in demand for UK education from Bangladesh in 2014 points to glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel for the region as a whole.
Reasons for (cautious) optimism
It goes without saying that today’s visa applicants are tomorrow’s students, which means that new enrolments from South Asia at UK institutions have almost certainly continued to decline in 2014/15 on the back of falling numbers of applications for UK study visas. However, growth could rebound in time for the 2015/16 cohort, although even in this slightly optimistic scenario, mobility to the UK will return to growth more than two years after the South Asia market began to recover in other major English speaking host destination countries. This suggests that UK market share will not necessarily improve even with a rebound in enrolments – a function of both the severe decline in South Asia’s outbound student mobility market to the UK from 2011-14, as well as the more rapid increase in enrolments from the region in Australia, the US and Canada in recent years.
Indeed, Australia has reported especially strong growth in enrolments from all of South Asia in 2014, while the U.S. and Canada have seen overall increases from the region in 2013/14 – and Bangladesh in particular. The strong growth in enrolments from Bangladesh across all major markets suggests that its outbound student market is indeed growing faster than other countries in South Asia, with the ‘push’ factors for students from Bangladesh perhaps outweighing the ‘pull’ factors in any given host destination country.
“For the UK, in other words, a rebound in Bangladesh may only be a function of a rising tide lifting all boats”
For the UK, in other words, a rebound in Bangladesh may only be a function of a rising tide lifting all boats; UK market share will tell the full story of how the UK education offer stacks up against the competition. On this front, the latest visa application data suggests that the UK continued to lose ground in 2013/14 but may have recovered a bit in 2014/15 – after more than three years of consecutive decline in issuance of new long-term UK study visas to students in Bangladesh, its outbound student market returned to growth in 2014 and has increased at an annual rate of nearly 25 per cent through the first three quarters of 2014, according to data from the Home Office.
“There is a large amount of variation between the strengths of the different Chinese partners involved in UK-China TNE programmes, even with the same UK institution”
The following is an extract from the British Council’s Education in East Asia – By the Numbers report, ‘Taking a closer look at the performance of UK universities in forming TNE partnerships in China’, written by Kevin Prest, Senior Analyst at the British Council in China. The British Council’s Services for International Education Marketing (SIEM) team helps UK institutions refine their internationalisation strategies to succeed in East Asia and around the globe. The full report is available to registered members of the British Council website here.
Transnational education is an increasingly important component of UK universities’ international strategies, and it has been widely reported that there are now more international students studying for UK qualifications abroad than there are in the UK. Partnerships with overseas universities are one of the key delivery modes for TNE programmes, and UK universities have been particularly active in establishing these partnerships in China – as of the end of 2014, there were 199 undergraduate level UK-China joint programmes formally approved by the Ministry of Education, excluding joint institutes and branch campuses.
As of the end of 2014, there were 199 undergraduate level UK-China joint programmes formally approved by the Ministry of Education
Focus group research with prospective and current Chinese TNE students shows that the strength of the local partner is one of the most important factors when choosing a TNE programme. Students in both groups see this as at least as important as (and often more important than) the overseas university. It is therefore crucial for universities to choose the right domestic partner for their joint programmes.
While there are many factors for UK universities involved in choosing a local partner, such as location and existing international collaborations, the partner university’s strength in the given subject is certainly one of the most important. However, an analysis of UK universities’ TNE partners in China reveals that there is often a great deal of variation in the subject ranking of local partners.
In the charts and analysis below, Chinese universities’ subject strengths are compared based on the average scores of incoming students in the Gaokao, the university entrance examination taken at the end of senior secondary school. Unlike in the UK, university recruitment in China is based virtually entirely on the results of this examination; places are given to the applicants with the highest scores without considering other factors like extracurricular activities. This makes Gaokao scores a strong indicator of the attractiveness of a course, compared with the same subject at other institutions. This metric is particularly valuable from a recruitment point of view as it shows the real choices students make after considering all factors.
Variation is the rule, not the exception
There is a large amount of variation between the strengths of the different Chinese partners involved in UK-China TNE programmes, even with the same UK institution. It is not uncommon for the same UK university to have several TNE partnerships with different universities in China, including some which are strong in the relevant subject area and others which are much weaker.
The chart below shows the MoE-approved TNE partnerships of one UK institution with six different Chinese partners across a total of 11 different subjects. The scores in this chart represent the subject-specific strength of the Chinese partner institutions on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the university whose incoming students in the relevant subject have the highest Gaokao scores.
The difference in the strengths of this university’s various partners is immediately obvious from the above chart. Partner 1 is in the top third of Chinese universities for all five subjects that it partners on, with an overall indexed score of 69.4, while Partners 5 and 6 rank well below the national average among universities teaching these subjects in China. Even within a single subject field such as computer science, one of this UK university’s partners is in the top third of institutions offering this subject in China, while another is in the bottom third. This may lead to difficulties in ensuring not only that the two programmes are of equivalent quality, but that they are seen as such by Chinese students.
For the institution in the above chart, the subject-specific rankings of each of its six partners are broadly consistent—partner 1 is above average in all five subjects, while partners 5 and 6 are well below average across the board. However, the chart below shows that this is not always the case. One of this UK university’s partners—a specialist medical university—is significantly stronger in nursing than it is in other subjects such as pharmaceutical preparation. In general there is greater variation in quality across subjects at lower ranked Chinese universities, which should also factor into the key considerations of UK universities when seeking TNE partnerships in China.
“UK higher education institutions and their international student populations stand to lose less from the coming slowdown in Chinese outbound mobility than many may presume”
The following is an extract from the British Council’s Education in East Asia – By the Numbers report entitled ‘Why less student mobility from China may not be the end of the world for UK education’. British Council’s Services for International Education Marketing (SIEM) team helps UK institutions refine their internationalisation strategies to succeed in East Asia and around the globe. The full report is available to registered members of the British Council website here.
A recent report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on global demand for English higher education has generated a great deal of attention among education practitioners and media outlets in the UK. Most coverage focused rightfully on the first net drop in international enrolment in English higher education in 29 years, as well as discussion of the various causes of this decline. With a touch of hyperbole, theEconomistclaimed that England’s higher education institutions were showing the world “how to ruin a global brand.”
“With a touch of hyperbole, theEconomist claimed that England’s higher education institutions were showing the world ‘how to ruin a global brand'”
Given the particularly precipitous decline in new enrolments from south Asia – by upwards of 50 per cent in two years – some commenters have latched onto any good news that they can find, especially the continued rise in the number of students from China, as a bright spot for the UK sector. One even proclaimed UK higher education to be “an industry winning an important share of the huge and growing Chinese market.”
But this way of thinking about China may already be outdated, as growth in China’s outbound student market has rapidly slowed. In fact, by focusing on the modest rise in overall enrolments from China, commentators overlook the surprising halt in growth at undergraduate levels in the UK in 2012/13. With students from China making up not only the largest sending market to the UK, but also the fastest growing one in recent years, this slowdown in Chinese enrolments would appear to foreshadow crisis for the UK higher education sector.
Somewhat strangely, however, UK higher education institutions and their international student populations stand to lose less from the coming slowdown in Chinese outbound mobility than many may presume. What’s more, the UK education sector is better prepared to weather a fallow period from China than any other major English speaking destination country.
There is no doubting the outsized importance of China’s student market to the UK. China enrolled 32,000 more students in UK higher education in 2012/13 than it did only five years prior, accounting for fully 60 per cent of growth in total new enrolments of international students over this time period. Today, more than one in five international students comes from China, up from one in eight as recently as 2007/08.
“There is no doubting the outsized importance of China’s student market to the UK”
What’s more, China’s outbound student market appears at first glance to be in fine health. New enrolments in UK higher education increased by more than six per cent in 2012/13 from the year before, even as international enrolments from other countries declined.
Appearances can be deceiving though. The seemingly healthy bump in first-year enrolments from China in UK higher education in 2012/13 masked the slowest rate of expansion since 2007/08. Moreover, all of this growth was concentrated in postgraduate courses, with new enrolments at both undergraduate levels registering net declines. In particular, new enrolments in first-degree courses came to a halt in 2012/13 after averaging 18 per cent annual growth over the period from 2007 to 2012.
In other words, if China was the engine of growth for the UK sector from 2007/08 until 2011/12, it downshifted quite dramatically in 2012/13. And if current trends in undergraduate enrolments in the UK are a harbinger of things to come, total new enrolments could stall by as early as 2014/15, weighed down by a shrinking youth population and slowing economic growth. This will only put further pressure on UK institutions to seek new sources of international students.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel for the UK.
The tipping point
For one thing, the UK education sector is still far less dependent on Chinese enrolments than other major English language speaking countries, particularly Australia, where nearly two fifths of all international students in higher education come from China. Even when excluding EU enrolments from the international student population, the UK is less dependent on China for international enrolments than Australia, Canada or the US, meaning that the UK sector will feel the effects of a slowdown in new Chinese enrolments less than other education markets might.
While UK higher education is less reliant on China’s student market overall, some UK institutions have grown worryingly dependent on China for international enrolments in recent years. To wit, in 2002/03, there were 11 UK institutions at which first-year students from China comprised more than 30 per cent of all new international enrolments; by 2012/13, fully 30 institutions fit this profile, and two universities enrolled more Chinese students than all other international students combined… [Continue reading]
While HEFCE’s report focused solely on English higher education institutions, the picture is largely the same for the entire UK sector.
All statistics for UK higher education institutions come from Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).