Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Grand Fee Paid for Each Foreign Student

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Grand Fee Paid for Each Foreign Student

Article excerpt

THE investigation shows almost Pounds 60m spent on agents' commissions. David Matthews reports.

UK universities recruited more than 50,000 international students through commission payments to overseas agents last year, spending close to Pounds 60 million on the practice in 2010-11, a Times Higher Education investigation has found.

Using data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, THE found that 100 universities enrolled 51,027 students in 2011, or the nearest recorded period, via a process involving agents paid on a commission basis.

This represents a significant proportion of all international students in the UK. In 2010-11, 174,225 non-European Union students enrolled on higher education courses in the country, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Meanwhile, a total of Pounds 57.8 million was spent on commission payments by 92 universities in 2010-11 or the nearest recorded period (an average of around Pounds 628,000 per institution). Of the 109 institutions that responded to THE's FoI request, 17 refused to release these data on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.

Payments made in 2010-11 do not relate exclusively to students recruited in 2011. But the figures suggest that universities handed over roughly Pounds 1,000 in agent fees for each student enlisted.

Almost all money paid to recruitment agents was on a per-student commission basis.

Liz Reisberg, a research associate at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said that university admissions officers, who do not work on commission, would feel freer to offer unbiased advice about other institutions that might be better suited to would-be students.

"Can you imagine an agent (on commission) doing that?" she asked.

The biggest UK recruiter via agents was the University of Bedfordshire, which enrolled 2,461 overseas students in 2011. It refused to disclose how much it spent, citing commercial sensitivity.

Newcastle University was the biggest spender among the institutions that disclosed the commission figure, paying out Pounds 2.2 million in 2010-11.

There was no obvious correlation between entry standards and the use of agents. However, the six institutions that said they did not use agents - the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Imperial College London, the London Business School, the London School of Economics and Heythrop College, University of London - are among the most selective in the UK.

Will Archer, chief executive of i-graduate, a firm that tracks student perceptions of universities on behalf of university and government clients, said that commission payments "inevitably" lead to conflicts of interest, but agents could still "fulfil an important role" if they guided students towards the right choices. …

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