Information for Prospective Students

International student recruitment: Getting the balance right

There are many facts that support our position as London’s Global University; our partnerships, connections and collaborations with organisations all around the world, our commitment to using expertise and knowledge to tackle global challenges; and our diverse staff and student community. When it comes to international student recruitment UCL is the largest recruiter of students from outside the UK. 41% of the student body is from beyond our borders, and around 160 nationalities have been represented on campus in the 2017/18 academic year.

The growth in the number of international students at UCL is in tune with the rise in international enrolments in the UK overall, although the rate of growth at UCL has been more than four times greater than for the rest of the country. Our numbers have grown, but importantly the enrolments have grown relative to our competitors. UCL’s share of the international student market has increased overall and within the Russell Group.

The numbers are good, but diversity amongst the student body is just as important. One of the objectives within the Global Engagement strategy is to be in the bottom quartile of the Russell Group in terms of reliance on top five recruitment markets by 2020. In the last couple of years we have drifted into the third quartile, and are currently hovering just 0.7% adrift of the bottom. China, UCL’s leading market, currently constitutes 26% of the international student population and we have seen double-digit growth in applications from China for 2018 entry. The sheer volume of Chinese students going abroad means that even modest growth from here results in a large number of additional enrolments, whilst high growth in small markets usually only translates to single or low double-digit figures. The problem of rebalancing recruitment away from China is considerable, and by no means is it unique to UCL. Excluding enrolments from China, the growth in the number of non-EU students enrolled in the UK was just 2% between 2009/10 and 2015/16.

It has long been a goal that recruitment should be from as broad a range of countries as possible, in order to spread risk and to achieve a heterogeneous student population. That being said, we need to be careful that we do not jeopardise our recruitment from China in an effort to diversify the student population, and so we certainly need to maintain recruitment activities in China. What we need to do is redouble our efforts to increase recruitment from markets outside the top five. The Student Recruitment Marketing team have been active in 58 markets in the 2017/18 academic year. Regular in-country visits enable us to raise UCL’s profile, improve market understanding and gain valuable market information and contacts. We have developed relationships with key funding bodies in several markets outside of the top five, allowing us to sign funding agreements which should support our recruitment endeavours, and help diversify the population. Furthermore, increasing use of digital technologies mean that we can extend our reach to less accessible markets, deepen activity in the markets in which we are active and reach our target audience with greater accuracy via bespoke campaigns.

The current recruitment climate offers some conflicting challenges. The slide in the value of Sterling against most overseas currencies since the Brexit vote has made a UK education more affordable. To counter that, there has been damaging publicity around just how welcoming the UK is, given the debate around immigration which surrounded the Brexit vote, and it remains a hot topic in some markets. There is a lot of talk around the US losing its appeal thanks to an even more toxic immigration debate in the USA and some international students are thinking twice about heading to the USA due to some of Trump’s policies and rhetoric. But the uncertainty around what Brexit will look like is causing questions to be asked about whether the UK is the best alternative. Little wonder therefore that Australia is moving ahead of the UK as the second most popular destination for international students after the UK. The international student-friendly policies of Justin Trudeau’s government in Canada has also led to a large boost in enrolments and interest from international students (and that includes students from the other side of the 49th parallel). It is not just mainly English-speaking destinations that are taking advantage of the situation; Germany is also reporting a rise in international student enrolments and has already exceeded a government target to attract 350,000 international students by 2020, according to a recent report in Handelsblatt Global.

Maintaining both growth and diversity remains challenging. Nevertheless, UCL continues to attract students from a wide range of markets and is committed to opening our doors to as broad a range of students as possible.

For more information about the Student Recruitment Marketing team and plans for 2018/19, please contact Neil Green, Head of Student Recruitment Operations.

Page last modified on 23 jul 18 13:59

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