Category: UK

Why less student mobility from China may not be the end of the world for UK education

“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, the Economist claimed that England’s higher education institutions were showing the world “how to ruin a global brand.”

“With a touch of hyperbole, the Economist 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[1]. 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But this way of thinking about China may already be outdated, as growth in China’s outbound student market has rapidly slowed.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.

Slowing dragon

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[2].

The good news: New enrolments from China in UK higher education, by level of study
The good news: New enrolments from China in UK higher education, by level of study

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]

[1]While HEFCE’s report focused solely on English higher education institutions, the picture is largely the same for the entire UK sector.  

[2]All statistics for UK higher education institutions come from Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The UK does not have a God-given right in the international student recruitment market

“Our bellicose rhetoric and criticism of UK immigration policy is simply picked up and repeated in the press overseas as criticism of the UK and of our universities”

Vincenzo Raimo, director of the international office at The University of Nottingham, writes about how poor lobbying tactics can damage the UK’s reputation abroad, and the complex factors impacting on Indian students’ decision to study in the UK.

Thank goodness the University of East Anglia’s Edward Acton, who said that Home Office rhetoric on immigration was having “a horrible, negative effect” on international student recruitment, is on his way out. But how do we stop other Vice-Chancellors going on about visas as if they’re the only reason numbers are down from India?
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Vincenzo Raimo is pro-vice-chancellor (global engagement) at the University of Reading in the UK.

100 per cent commission, a few extras and no questions asked!

..One agency owner shares his opinion on the fallout of the Apple Languages collapse:

As The PIE News reported at the end of last year, Apple Language Courses Abroad went bust, owing a million euro of unpaid debts to language course providers.

Was this a shock? Does it matter to the international education industry?

The quick answers are: NO and YES.

No, it was not a shock because people in the industry, myself included, as Managing Director of LANACOS, started getting feedback from clients, early in 2011/2012, that there were hundreds of non-payment of invoices from this one agency and this was affecting such basic services as tuition and accommodation not only for the agency clients but other students too. Remember, our clients talk in many languages…

There was a definite lack of money in the system and standards were falling

As an agent with 20 years experience in the industry, I have always been wary of rumours and false alarms but I knew this was more serious because of the reaction of the language centres.

There was a definite lack of money in the system and standards were falling, cost cutting was ubiquitous. Accounts departments were nervous. They were defensive when you asked them simple questions about transparency and investment dropped.

Then, speaking to other agents and directors of  language centres, the truth came out. Although Apple Languages was a “trusted partner agency of IALC”, they had serious financial problems and they owed a substantial amount to their friends. The exact amount varied but a reasonable amount has been reported now as 1 million Euro (+/-).

There was a mention of “moral obligation” to pay but these are words not actions

The next story was that no-one in their right mind wanted to buy the business but an agency was prepared to save the business for the “sake of the industry” yet was very careful to highlight they had no responsibility to pay the one million Euro debts. There was a meaningless mention of “moral obligation” to pay but these are words not actions. It is only worth the paper (or email) it’s written on.

So what are the implications for the rest of us solvent companies in international education who pay invoices and send clients to these language centres?

  1. Our education partners, by not recouping the debts, are essentially giving Apple Languages a 100% commission on courses as well as giving free accommodation and superb terms and conditions, unheard of in any other industry. As we say in English it’s not cricket or fair play. Is it fair to give such favourable terms to an agency that has already benefited from naïve and poor judgement?
  1. This will affect future contracts and negotiations with other agencies, because…

A)   other agencies will not get such favourable terms or commission rates

B)   staff numbers at language centres will fall to cut costs

C)   investment will suffer through lack of funds and concerns about this happening in the future with other agencies. Result: the end product will deteriorate.

Ultimately, Trust and Transparency will suffer because the market has not been allowed to take its proper course. Some players will believe that they control the market and believe (or delude themselves) that they will get their money back.

Unfortunately, this is an international market and competition is rife on the Internet, some companies, in the end will have to pay for these generous 100% commissions.



Dr Martin Pickett is Managing Director of LANACOS, based in the UK.

 All opinions are the views of the attributed author.

A Skilled Migrant writes….

Arundati Dandapani, graduated international student in the UK, shares her experience of seeking permanent employment in the UK..

“Life as a foreign student in the UK can be challenging to say the least.  I have encapsulated my experiences over the past year as a Publishing graduate on a tier 4 student visa in a format that I hope is both interesting and useful to readers of the PIE:

The end of a worker-friendly era: backed by a simple liberal arts degree from America and with four years of working at writing and editing jobs in India, I applied for a Masters in the UK, fully intending to work there after studies. At the time of application, I was entitled to two years of Post Study work, as well as qualify for Fresh Talent Scotland, but then an angry bout of youth riots wrecked the streets causing panic in the British parliament and in homes. Quickly in April 2012, the Post Study work permit that earlier allowed non-EEA students to stay on for two years on the condition of a job offer (from any company) was repealed, leaving me with a small fistful of potential employers or publishers to approach. These were what I memorised to be 1500 pages of licensed sponsors as approved by the UKBA.

“I had to apply to 105 places to actually get called in to 10 interviews”

Education is a purely commercial enterprise:  and one has to demand value for it. Professors will limit availability, answer emails rarely, and restrict office hours. They will wax and wane about being more academic than insightful, and, you have to customise your degree to suit your own good priorities: be it a job offer, professional networks, grades, or leisure holidays. I focussed on a job priority, and failed, although I did gain a few good professional experiences in the bargain.

People won’t mix with you: It is a close-knit society, but if you find a group of like-minded or other professionals with whom you can share simple working hours with, CLING until it blossoms into something. A year is not enough to make friends in Great Britain, but at least some good working relationships are a goldmine.

The Job market is suspicious of you: I had to apply to 105 places to actually get called in to 10 interviews. They all declared my CV impressive and predicted I’d “go far.” How much farther! I would protest. By the time my dream job opening came up in the middle of December, I had already booked my tickets back to India, as I neared the expiry date on my visa.

Internships are contentious: You don’t have a national insurance number and nobody asks for it at your internship, they may not even look at your passport. Employers are not paying you a minimum wage, and yet the more interning you do, the better you get a chance at actual employment. Six internships got me a fixed term employment as an ebooks assistant.

“A year is not enough to make friends in Great Britain, but some good working relationships are a goldmine”

Cold Calls to Every Employer on the Register of Sponsors! On tele-calling every publisher featured on the UKBA’s register of sponsors, some claimed unaware of their UKBA status, and when I explained, they said upfront that they had no “quota” left, and would not consider my application if I did not have an existing work permit.  I replied that although  I had a student visa that allowed me to work fulltime until January, I could only apply for a proper work visa after I had a job offer in hand, so couldn’t I still apply? The response was negative.

Nobody wants you: Graduation drew near, and classmates who barely talked to me opened their mouths only to ask me, “When are you going home?!” When the annual London Book Fair happened, I knew London was it. People were actually interested in my skills, ideas and were actually having conversations about publishing. Internships took shape, and I narrowed the longer term prospects, focussing my job search to publishing alone (although I did approach a bakery and some advertising agencies who were licensed sponsors), because only a handful of international publishers were eligible to sponsor a tier 2 non-EEA migrant.

Talk to Everybody: I applied to 105 places, got called to 10. Interviewers called me interesting, adventurous and a lot of other adjectives that I quickly realised were not helping my case. They were perhaps referring to the geographic diversity I was used to. After learning the lingo of career centres and speaking with recruitment consultants and insiders from the industry at publishing events, I took a few more hints.

“Increase the extent of student visas issued to migrant labour, to offer time for job search”

Failure makes you stronger: Only about three publishers were actually explicit about an open and willing policy to hire, but by the time I qualified for any eligible positions within these companies and by the time their vacancies opened, it was the middle of December. After having completed over six internships alongside my degree studies and a fixed term employment within a hot market function of publishing, I had lost eventually.

Office Gossip (not love) makes the world go round: Towards the rundown to Christmas and near the end of my fixed term at a publishing house, colleagues took turns commenting, “What a pity they did not renew your contract.” They knew I was on a fixed term contract, my nationality was different, my length of stay would be limited to the duration of tasks, and so, short term, etc..

Three weeks into my job, another candidate was taken on to fill the same duties towards what immediately struck me as eventual permanence at a lower salary than if they had decided to sponsor me. Colleagues delighted in this set-up for rivalry. By the end of my tenure I was itching to depart, the daily six-hour round trip commute only got longer as we nudged sub-zero temperatures, and constant delays caused by flooding and regular suicides on the railway tracks. The only things that got me through those months were my persistence and positivity.

Is Britain unprepared for a diverse workforce? Britain is a tiny country that cannot sustain its own recession, but Norway is not bigger than Britain, and yet offers more diversity in the workplace and by about 2050 about half its population will be taxpaying migrants/immigrants. If UK businesses do not take initiative to look outwards, the government will not make it its business. UK’s businesses are built around individuals whose mindsets and openness towards skilled migrants will only determine how dynamic or multicultural the UK workplace actually is.

Going by the passionate words of London Mayor Boris Johnson or Scottish Cabinet Secretary of Education Mike Russell, one would be inclined to believe that UK desires foreign students and flexible work rules for non-EEA migrants. But if the UK is actually serious about increasing its intake of foreign students and not losing out to Canada or Australia — destinations with an edge of more flexi work rules, then I can propose the following two ways in which to rectify the current situation:

  1. Increase the extent of student visas issued to migrant labour, to offer time for job search (My American fellow students enjoyed a longer term visa than myself).
  2. Allow non-EEA students who have graduated from the UK to apply for a tier 2 visa even after they return to their home country without complications. Let there be some incentive to studying in the UK.

When skilled foreign graduates from UK universities are not viewed with the same professional parity as Europeans or migrants from other privileged economies in the Great British workplace, it signals both mistrust and xenophobia. In a world where everyone is looking for collaborations and looking outwards, it is a pity that the UK is not encouraging of foreign workers and ensuring a dynamic or diverse workplace.

Arundati Dandapani is very shortly returning to India after completing her Masters at the University of Stirling, UK.

We’ve decided to be very transparent in our work with student recruitment agents

Vincenzo Raimo, Director, International Office at the University of Nottingham, UK, writes…

“The value of international students to UK universities is unquestionable and much more than just financial: they help create more diverse and interesting student communities, they help UK students develop a more global outlook and they help UK universities compete with the very best in the world by ensuring our student body, particularly at postgraduate level, is made up of the very best students from around the world.

But the need to bridge income shortfalls has put a great deal of pressure on international student recruiters to bring-in more students and increase income levels.
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Vincenzo Raimo is pro-vice-chancellor (global engagement) at the University of Reading in the UK.

Ten great reasons to study in the UK

Carla Stanton, International Manager of UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), sets out her top 10 pointers on why the UK remains a great study destination:

ONE: British higher education and qualifications have an impressive international reputation, with students in the United Kingdom encouraged to develop their potential while enjoying a full social life.

TWO: It’s easy to research the right course for you by visiting the UCAS website. Everyone who goes to has access to the Course Search database containing details of around 38,000 courses from archaeology to zoology.

THREE: Students who register are guided, step-by-step, through the process and use the online application system, Apply. It’s not too late to apply this year – UCAS will still send applications to universities and colleges up until June 30.

FOUR: Studying in the UK will help you develop excellent language skills. The English language is of crucial importance in today’s global business arena. (Most UK universities offer language support to international students but institutions have their own criteria for the level of English that students need to master.)

FIVE: You’ll be in good company. The UK has a long history of welcoming international students to study in its universities and colleges. In Britain last year there were 1.8 million full-time undergraduate students in higher education, which included over 104,000 international students.

SIX: UK universities are inspected regularly to ensure that they uphold the high standards of teaching, learning and research set by the Government. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is the key body charged with maintaining these standards.

SEVEN: The cultural diversity of life in British higher education is unrivalled. From cosmopolitan cities like London, Cardiff, Belfast and Glasgow, to historic counties like Warwickshire and Yorkshire, the UK is a place of contrasts and culture, where ancient buildings sit alongside contemporary architecture.

EIGHT: Undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the UK tend to be shorter than in other countries which can help to keep the cost of tuition fees and living expenses down. Most undergraduate courses take three years to complete, although in Scotland it would be typically four years and postgraduate courses can be from one year upwards.

NINE: Typically, international students are allowed to work for up to 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during holidays. If you are from an EU country, there will be even more flexibility. Full details about the conditions for working are on the UK Border Agency website and also on the UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs) website.

TEN: EU students may be eligible for financial help with tuition fees, and possibly some extra help, depending on family circumstances. Find out here.

Last year over 110,000 people from outside the UK applied through UCAS to study in Britain. UCAS is the central body which has managed admissions to higher education in Britain for over 50 years. Carla Stanton is the International Manager of UCAS. 

The UK is caught in a ‘perfect storm’

“Having spent the last two years working with leading Australian universities to support their international student recruitment, coming back to the UK to see the challenges being faced by universities here brings a fresh perspective to the issues.

In my experience and that of my colleagues at Hobsons, the feeling within the sector is that the new visa regime recently implemented by the UK Border Agency means that, in effect, UK universities have been closed for business from international students.

This is far from the case but perception counts for a lot and perception amongst the press, foreign agents, prospective international students and indeed within some universities is that the UK is no longer such an attractive proposition.

It’s true, UKBA reforms and the ongoing economic crisis have brought fresh challenges but the fundamental reasons for the UK being the destination of choice for countless thousands of international students and their families over the past half a century have not changed. Institutions need to start focussing on what makes our education system so appealing and stop worrying about what our competitors are doing; especially Australia.

The simple fact is that the implementation of the recommendations from the Knight review in Australia has made the visa process for oversees students more straightforward, it has made the cost of studying financially less burdensome and it has increased potential career opportunities post graduation.

The Australian Government has risen to the challenge of promoting openness and you can be sure that the universities will hold up their end of the bargain; maximising the opportunities created through responsible recruitment. In the meantime, the UK is caught in a ‘perfect storm’ – and one that is partially of our own making.

We cannot control what other countries do however we haven’t done enough to affect those elements within our control: our brand, our offering, our message. We need to manage perception otherwise someone else, with a very different agenda to our own, will do it for us.

Putting aside perception for a minute, the reality for UK universities is that we provide a world class education system in one of the most culturally diverse and welcoming countries in the world. This reality is at risk of getting lost amongst the negative press surrounding student fees, English language requirements and opportunity to work; it is the responsibility of the sector as a whole to address this disparity between perception and reality.

There is a logic behind the UK visa reforms, even if the government has taken a rather heavy handed approach to the solution for the existing gaps in the system. It is up to us to work within this changing landscape and re-focus our efforts. Universities must get specific; they must use what they know of their current and past international student cohorts to determine what message they need to get to market and then they must ensure that message is received loud and clear.

As a sector and as individual institutions, we need to make sure that we are absolutely clear about our aim, our message and our medium. You cannot buy what is unique about British higher education – its history, quality and prestige. You certainly cannot buy what is unique about your institution. In an increasingly competitive market, the universities that thrive will be those that are able to differentiate themselves.”

Duncan Findlater, Head of Client Services at Hobsons, has recently returned from Australia. Find out more about Hobsons: