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How the UK sector’s biggest triumph is translating into our most significant challenge

In an international education market just emerging from the ravages of a pandemic, how should we interpret a country hitting an international student recruitment target a decade early?

"While we might embrace increased volumes, the pressures being placed on admissions and enrolment teams within universities are unprecedented"

Back in early 2021, the UK government set a goal of hosting 600,000 international students by 2030, in a refreshed international education strategy that promised to boost the country’s education exports. The fact that the UK met its target a decade early is an accomplishment to be lauded as well as a situation to be examined. 

Sure, we all welcome such great news, especially after so much difficulty faced by the higher education sector these past two years. One could argue the pent-up demand for study abroad was a large factor behind the surge, with international students eager for the in-person campus experience in the UK after so many online classes on their laptops. 

But no matter the drivers, there are hard tasks ahead. While we might embrace increased volumes, the pressures being placed on admissions and enrolment teams within universities are unprecedented. Even before the influx of international students, these teams were struggling to maintain high standards of customer experience by responding to enquiries and applications in a timely fashion. Now, with student volumes not only increasing, but at some universities – and some course streams – doubling, response times can now be measured in weeks, much less hours. 

“It’s a luxury to describe huge application volumes as a burden”

And while it’s a luxury to describe huge application volumes as a burden rather than a welcome surprise, these processing circumstances are likely to worsen before they improve. Some say there’s been a 75% rise in the number of IELTS tests being taken, compared to the prior year, and enquiries to UK universities are up more than 55%, with a 50% rise, year-on-year, in applications. Hitting our national international student target early may be celebrated as a triumph, but it has, at the same time, translated into perhaps the biggest challenge the sector is facing today.

There are no easy answers, for sure, but there are solutions that can help us navigate this new landscape. 

There’s a lot to be said about triage when it comes to enrolment management. And at Acumen (Sannam S4) we offer PACE (Prospect, Admit, Convert and Enrol), a modular, pick-and-mix tool that can add value during these especially trying times. Where are the bottlenecks and pain points in a university’s admissions funnel, and how can they be alleviated?

Deciding which applications can be eyeballed and responded to, coaxing incomplete applications towards completion, supporting a university by issuing offers, converting offer holders to acceptance status or conducting pre-CAS credibility interviews – you may need a few of those areas to be tended to or, at this point, you may be at the stage where you’d like help with them all.

We don’t know yet whether the UK government will aim for even greater numbers of international students. And if we further grow these cohorts, we’ll need to expand our resources to accommodate the influx. Our suite of enrolment solutions can not only support your team, but could be a gamechanger, especially when the stakes are so high. We have to ensure that students feel like they’ve made the right choice by selecting the UK. We need to keep the recruitment pipeline efficient by ensuring prospective students with quick turnaround times while not dropping the ball on quality and customer service. 

In the meanwhile, let’s celebrate the fact that students are back on campuses and we are back in the business of international education. Even with continued concern about Covid-19, it’s good to know students are still eager to study in the UK, and in such striking numbers. After more than two years of uncertainty, we welcome a solid challenge. 

About the author: This is a sponsored post by Pete Richards, Executive Director UK and Europe (Acumen), Sannam S4 Group. Pete has been working within the Higher Education sector for over a decade, operating as Marketing Director for Sydney’s highly acclaimed Macquarie Business School, Head of Student Recruitment Marketing at Henley Business School, UK General Manager – International Student Recruitment and Marketing at Navitas and, most recently, Director of Partnership Development (TNE) at Coventry University.

Pete studied Engineering, BEng (Hons) at the University of Wolverhampton, as well as a Marketing Diploma via the Chartered Institute of Marketing (ultimately achieving Chartered Marketer status).


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