Magazine article Times Higher Education

Wake-Up Call for UK as Giants Stir in the Global Student Market

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Wake-Up Call for UK as Giants Stir in the Global Student Market

Article excerpt

We must move on from Westminster's mixed messages on transnational education before it's too late, argues Chris Cobb

I have just returned from a conference in Baltimore, where the talk was about the sleeping giant of US internationalisation stirring from its slumber.

Barack Obama has instituted the EducationUSA initiative to accelerate international student recruitment, while the National Association for College Admission Counseling has introduced new rules governing the use of overseas recruitment agents - in effect changing a directive that universities "must not" use them to advice that they "should not". Taken at face value, the latter development might sound minor, but it is expected to be liberally interpreted and will open up one of the main routes to Chinese student recruitment.

The US already has more overseas students than any other country, but they represent only about 4 per cent of its student population. By comparison, they account for around 20 per cent in the UK and Australia, and 12 per cent in Canada. So the potential for US growth is immense, and given the size of its higher education sector even a relatively small percentage rise would have a considerable impact on other nations' recruitment.

How prepared is the UK for this?

A recent Hobsons' report, Beyond the Data: Influencing International Student Decision Making, surveyed more than 18,000 people considering study in the UK or Australia. It found that course ranking is the primary determinant in where they choose to study. Course is even more important than university, as the assumption is that both countries' institutions are of good quality and standing. It also suggests that perceptions of quality can be based on flimsy evidence, such as responsiveness to initial enquiries or social media feedback.

Meanwhile, a British Council report, Through Student Eyes, describes the experience of "mystery shoppers" looking at the world's top 500 institutions. It says that the UK and the Republic of Ireland have some of the best websites and recruitment management, but are poor at providing student testimonials. Inevitably, social media and the like fill the gap.

Beyond the Data suggests that countries should do more to promote their university systems' quality, value and values for the benefit of all their institutions. Germany, France and Italy have excelled at this in recent years.

DAAD, the German equivalent of the British Council, aims to recruit 350,000 foreign students by 2020 and encourage 50 per cent of domestic students to study abroad. International students now make up 11 per cent of the German student population, with numbers doubling since 1995. …

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