PH: From an early age, I wanted to travel and study so I undertook part of my first degree at the University of Cyprus and then progressed and completed my master’s degree in the UK. I knew at the time that I wanted to explore and, if I could somehow, make it happen for many more young international students – just like it worked so well for me.
I’m from an education background – my mother is a teacher back home in China and together, we have always shared the love of the English language. During my studies in London, I secured a part-time job with the University of Westminster. I was able to help the business school’s admission office to translate text and to create many different marketing materials both on and offline.
“We noticed that some of our eager international students often struggle in identifying with their own cultural role models”
So following my graduation and to this day, I know that the best feeling for me was in recruiting fellow international students to study overseas and to experience international learning.
The PIE: So how did you set up your company?
PH: I starting going it alone in the summer of 2003 following my own graduation. I ran a traditional, some would say ‘old school’ student recruitment agency on Rupert Court, London. Three years later, alongside the partnership with 40+ universities, I rebranded my company to UVIC – UK Visa & International Education Centre – and moved us all into Centre Point not so far from our current head office which is based next to Cannon Street.
Now 14 years later, we organise UniFair in London and in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia too. As a company, these events remain our focus for our annual, offline marketing initiatives for our UK international students.
The PIE: What do you hope to achieve with your UniFair events?
PH: At UniFair, our international students from various nationalities are always able to meet directly and informally with our partner universities across a table which remains an experience that knows no substitute.
We did realise fairly early on that some students could be missing out on their entitlement in accessing some impartial career guidance and advice in choosing a progression subject as part of their career planning process. So we added a career mentoring service to ensure that the young people were better researched prior to arriving at UniFair.
The PIE: How do you career mentor?
We noticed that some of our eager international students often struggle in identifying with their own cultural role models. So we created Super Mentor as an online support and coaching platform alongside top graduates from Fortune 500 companies who possess the first-hand experience of international study and have subsequently worked in a professional role for the past three to four years.
At this point in their career, these Super Mentors possess a great deal of knowledge and experience that could be shared with other highly driven students – such as how they handled their never ending course work demands, how they planned and worked towards developing their employability skills whilst still at university and how did they manage to get through the numerous interviews and secure some really good job offers after graduation.
“Businesses in China are always looking for strong candidates who have been successful with their studying in the UK”
The PIE: How do the students use the Super Mentors?
PH: The Super Mentor provision is as the team call it, live broadcasting. Each session combines a half hour for the Super Mentor to talk about a specific academic or an employment related topic and then the following half hour will be for the students to interact with the Super Mentor online.
These Super Mentor sessions were launched in May 2016 and so far, we have created over 450 of them. Besides the live broadcasting, the voice recording or video sharing attracts 12,000 views on average. The sessions are really inspiring for all students and being online, these young people can watch each session that interests them, again and again.
The PIE: How do you see what you are doing with UVIC and UniFair evolving in the next few years?
PH: We are taking UniFair global – we are organising UniFair in different countries. MyOffer, our university application portal, works so well because it is internet based, so we can easily reach any corner of the global via Google, Facebook, WeChat, we use digital marketing to reach all prospective students.
We have created an umbrella company called Learning Without Borders, so UVIC, myOffer and all the other initiatives are under this umbrella. We want to make Learning without Borders a service platform for international students, so it is not just our core business of supporting university applications.
“We want to make Learning without Borders a service platform for international students”
We aim to become the sector leader in all that we deliver. There hasn’t been any company with a similar business model as ours. Many focusing individually on university placement or visa services or career training but what we do is a one-stop-shop platform.
The PIE: How much of your recruitment is onshore in the UK and how much is international students outside of the UK?
PH: If you had asked me the same question last year, I would say the majority of the students are recruited here right across the UK. Now in 2017, it is about 50/50, because we have all these new staffing teams and new products and marketing activities happening across China, Hong Kong and Malaysia which have now grown and matched the interest which is always there from within the UK.
The PIE: What are some of the main reasons as to why Chinese students want to come to the UK to study and maybe continuing study in the future?
PH: Firstly, it’s the quality and reputation of the university sector. The rankings in the global university league tables interests them too. Businesses in China are always looking for strong candidates who have been successful with their studying in the UK. They know that these young people will be well-rounded and conversant with living and learning in a global environment.
The students also like the welcome they receive here in the UK, the history that’s all around them whilst they study and the popular music/arts culture which is available 24/7.
Everybody who has studied and lived in the UK really miss the experience after they head back home and it is not just the university they miss, it is the friendships, the fun times exploring, the diversity of life, all these things.
The PIE: How are you helping students to understand that they need to demonstrate these employability skills?
PH: We notice that some overseas students tend to be totally focused on their studies and often fail to consider their employability and subsequent career planning following their graduation. There’s a number of students who simply want to get into a top UK university because of the ranking positioning. Often their families and friends will encourage this action.
“Some overseas students tend to be totally focused on their studies and often fail to consider their subsequent career planning”
Sometimes they would rather choose a random subject just in order to get into that university rather than a subject that will set their brain alight – so to speak. Their subject choice should be related to their career planning goals, particularly at postgraduate level. There is, of course, a lot more to consider as part of a career plan, but it should be a core consideration when you choose and fund, your dream university course.
Another thing that UVIC is strong on, is our Young Elite Scheme (YES) Global. It’s our career related strand as we get to work with companies like London Stock Exchange, the Head Offices of EY and HSBC, House of Fraser and at the BBC. We work in partnership with these companies on securing internship positions.
The PIE: As a Chinese student, what do you think are the biggest barriers to studying in the UK?
PH: Language and mindset. In terms of mindset, am I here to study? It is just part of this experience. It could be the most precious period of your life and a lot of students tend to just focus on studies or network with close friends instead of trying to experience across culture, make friends from different countries, lifetime friends from right across the world.