Flying the flag for British higher education

By Iain Sloan, senior solutions consultant at Ellucian

In education, as the well-known saying goes, change is the only constant. I’ve been working in the higher education sector for two decades and this has never been more apparent than in the last few years.   

Uncertainty continues to reign in international student recruitment, for example, with the combined impact of shifting government policy and increasing global competition at risk of reducing the UK’s draw as a destination of choice for higher education.

The challenge is that a fall in international student fees income would come at a time when the sector is already carrying considerable losses from the shift of learning online during the pandemic. The fees from international students could be key to helping many universities fill this financial void.

Department heads and instructors in our universities are becoming increasingly concerned that less diversity could have a negative impact on the world-class education that has historically attracted overseas students to our shores too.

So, what can higher education institutions across the UK do to help them remain an attractive destination for international students?

A positive experience from the start

Institution that are globally renowned for managing UK visas and documentation such as the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) efficiently will be an appealing prospect for overseas students. One way to achieve this is to automate as much of the admissions process as possible.

Automation drives efficiency and saves time for international student recruitment teams, speeding up the whole process and improving the student experience. Putting key information such as student details, workflows and the status of required documentation into the hands of staff and allowing this data to be shared easily and securely can make a real difference.

Rather than searching for the information they need, staff have more time to focus on helping students and responding to enquiries. This human touch can go a long way towards pushing a university further up the rankings to become the first choice for a student wanting to study in the UK.

A holistic approach to education

All students rightly expect the quality of education being delivered in our universities to be world-class, and the UK has always been right up there among the best. But in these challenging times, institutions are doing more to ensure students’ needs re met.

Everyday costs for accommodation and household bills are considerably higher than they have been in the past, for example, and the vast majority of students who come from overseas are not eligible for the same levels of government support as their UK-based peers. 

With budgets being squeezed there will be fewer opportunities for overseas students to interact socially with their peers too, which could dilute the whole experience of studying abroad for some.

There is also the ongoing investment universities are making to strengthen the student wellbeing and support services they provide in response to growing demand.  

Those universities that continue to recruit from overseas will need to consider what additional spending commitments they need to factor into their short and long-term budget planning to address students’ economic, social and emotional needs.

As the cost of living drives more UK students into cheaper accommodation further away, or the relatively inexpensive option of remaining in the family home, the ability to continue to attract and retain overseas students could, to some extent, provide a counterbalance to these spending commitments.

Firm financial foundations

The higher education sector may need to invest more, and work much harder, to attract the best students and keep them engaged from the beginning of their studies through to graduation. 

Putting the financial foundations in place for success is vital to maintain the UK’s reputation as a world-leader in delivering a quality higher education experience for students from across the globe.

Iain Sloan is a senior solutions consultant at Ellucian. He was formerly student systems development manager at Oxford Brookes University.