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New report reveals how UK universities are diversifying their pool of international students

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Published today by Universities UK (UUK), the Diversification and strengthening international recruitment practices report highlights the sector’s efforts to achieve sustainable growth and diversity in recruitment of international students while maintaining very high levels of immigration compliance. The report sets out key findings from a survey of UUK’s members, which aimed to get a clearer picture of the sector’s recruitment practices in relation to international students.

The UK higher education sector has a strong international reputation, and this has been reflected by a growth in international student numbers in recent years. Since 2017–18, the number of international students studying in the UK has increased by approximately 45%. In 2021–22, the UK hosted a record 679,000 international students and, in doing so, met one of the key targets set out in the government’s International Education Strategy (IES). With recent data revealing that the2021/22 intake of international students delivered a net contribution of over £37 billion to the economy, the conversation around recruitment has become important on both a cultural and economic level.

From setting earlier deadlines for high demand courses to increasing the number of interviews with international students to help understand motivation and level of interest at an earlier stage, universities are using a variety of methods to manage and mitigate compliance and assurance risks. In fact, almost half (49%) of respondents to the survey reported that their university had reformed application processes to reflect different application cycles and ‘late’ markets, potentially opening the doors for students from new regions.

Key Findings from the report:

  • 90% of respondents revealed that their university is currently diversifying international student recruitment
  • Almost all (96%) respondents told us that their university required deposits from at least some international students
  • Two thirds (67%) of respondents who use agents in recruitment said their university uses the UK Agent Quality Framework, a voluntary tool that supports best practice in work between higher education and agents

Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International said:

International students deliver huge cultural, social, and economic benefits to the UK. A single cohort delivers a net economic contribution of over £37 billion to the UK economy, with every 11 non-EU students generating £1m worth of net economic impact for the UK economy. It is vital that the UK remains an open and welcoming destination for international students. 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. This report highlights the important work being done by university professionals to share and learn from best practice. 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.”

In total, 60 UUK members from across the country took part in the survey, making up almost half of the organisation’s total membership, further highlighting how important a topic this is in the sector.

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