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Vicki Smith, Partner, SI-UK

VS: We do of course, however the competition is from companies which tend to be focused on one nationality for example China or the Middle East. We offer multi-lingual consulting in languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Russian, Hindi, Gujrati, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese, Arabic and Spanish.

"In India we could operate with the same profit margins per student but with an overhead as little as one tenth the price"

The PIE: Are universities giving you the same rates as anyone else?

DG: Well I’m not sure about that, I think there is a standard 10%. But we are dealing with a different range of universities and commissions are certainly paid at different levels to different agents, different countries, depending on what they’re doing. Universities will also commit to paid marketing campaigns which obviously assist us within those countries.

The PIE: And how many UK universities do you work with?

DG: It varies market to market but it’s usually a number between 35 and 45. You know in Japan, students are only interested in Russell Group universities or institutions like Bath, York, or SOAS, [or] niche courses of interest whereas some places in India, seven of the top 10 recruiters are modern universities; Greenwich, East London, Liverpool John Moores – universities that we had never worked with as we began in Japan.

“In India, seven of the top 10 recruiters are modern universities”

The PIE: You officially opened in Turkey last month. Why did you choose to go there?

VS: We were approached by an investor at our UK University Fair held in London, who sent his son across to the UK to study. We then began discussions to develop an office offering the same services in Istanbul.

DG: We laid down the foundations for a partnership; SI-UK Turkey, following the exact same procedure and guidelines of all the offices. A certain amount would have to be invested into staff, in technology, renting retail space, marketing, exhibitions, print media, online media, the whole range to make it a success as quickly as possible..

On opening our office we were contacted by education officials from Turkey who had expressed an interest in a UK based company providing free assistance for UK university applications. After a number of high level meetings, we were invited to provide consulting and assistance for Turkish government-sponsored students. They are estimating that in 2013, there will be between 350 to 500 students which fall into this category.

The PIE: Are rankings important in Turkey?

VS: After meeting with a number of students, it is clear that Turkish students are well researched. They are generally interested in a mix of rankings and price.

The PIE: How did SI-UK first get involved with India?

DG: As a solely UK-focused agency, our only method of diversifying has been to expand into other countries. We were also looking at opening offices in America, Canada, Nigeria and other top 10 markets. But when we ran a cost analysis and looked at long-term benefits, India by far was the best choice for us.

In India we have offices in Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai and looking at expansion.

The PIE: Looking ahead, what does the future hold in terms of growth?

DG: Since the foundation of SI-UK, our results have been consistently higher than 30% growth year upon year. Importantly the company has reached an exciting take off stage and we feel that our growth in the coming years will significantly exceed prior years due to offices we’ve established in high volume markets like India and Turkey.

“Since the foundation of SI-UK, our results have been consistently higher than 30% growth year upon year”

Until now it has been quite difficult for us because the two markets and cities that we primarily operate in – Tokyo, Osaka, London and Manchester – are very expensive in terms of floor space and payroll. In India we could operate with the same profit margins per student but with an overhead as little as one tenth the price.

The PIE: Do you have plans to expand to other countries?

VS: Yes. South America and the Middle East are two very interesting markets for us, particularly with Brazil and Colombia’s Science without Borders initiative. We already service a number of Brazilian and Colombian students who visit our office in the UK.

The PIE: What is your opinion on the landscape of UK visas for the next couples of years? Do you foresee any sort of political back peddling?

DG: [Said before May’s announcement of 12/12]: There is speculation that the one year post-study work right might come back. Every Scottish university we speak to says if they do become independent, they will bring that back immediately. Ireland still has one year post-study work visa in place and the Irish universities as we know are aggressively marketing themselves. They are becoming a major competitor to the UK. If anything, I would expect policies are going to ease, they’re going to have to.

The PIE: And Dwayne, given that you’re Canadian, did you never want to set up a branch of SI-Canada?

DG: I don’t think so. The winters are very cold!

 

  •  Editorial assistance: Manuela Frei

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