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Riding the coming wave: acceleration of university-private education partnerships

Major policy changes combined with significant new socio-economic drivers saw a step change in growth and diversity of global higher education in the 1990’s including the rise to prominence of a wide range of private education service providers.

"The trends of the last 30 years have resulted in universities under pressure to rethink their approaches to internationalisation"

Those providers included multi-national recruitment agents, pathway colleges and university accommodation providers etc.

However, whilst the trends and realities of university-private partnerships have been evident for decades, the challenges in making these relationships a success have not diminished.

The experiences of universities and private providers have varied significantly with relationships either deepening or ending as parties succeeded or failed in establishing a shared vision, common approaches, joint investment and academic and operational synergies.

The need for, and challenges to, such partnerships are about to accelerate.

It is the result of a “perfect storm” of (geo)political and operational challenges including extraordinary pressure on university finances, rapidly rising competition for students, increases in fraudulent applications, volatility in demand for study overseas, migration debates.

Additionally student behaviours are changing and governments are demanding universities to focus on their core activities – research and teaching in order to serve the domestic socio-political agenda.

In parallel a new recruitment ecosystem in developing driven by technology and access to unparalleled levels of data about student profiles and intent.

Against this backdrop the leading international management consultancy Nous Group, Universities UK International and Oxford International Education Group identified expanding opportunities for public universities to better leverage private partnerships in post-pandemic recruitment.

We jointly published the report as Public meets private: The growth of education services in international student recruitment’.

The report identified that the forces at play in higher education were driving many universities to increase their reliance on private providers who can have a crucial role in aiding the sector in making the right decisions to achieve individual and collective outcomes.

“The growth in private providers has opened up many new areas of collaboration”

The growth in private providers has opened up many new areas of collaboration. However, addressing “increased competition” for students was cited by 75% of respondents as the critical driver shaping their approach to private providers.

Sustainability, capability and capacity challenges were significant secondary drivers.

At Oxford International, we have demonstrated that we can deliver sector-leading processes and outcomes to the recruitment of overseas students by providing bespoke educational services tailored for the needs of particular partner universities, delivering a significant increase in the volume and diversity of students recruited for partners.

With our 30 years of experience in the global education sector, we have established transparent relationships with our eight university partners built on trust and confidence in our mission: Learning without Limits.

We see that the trends of the last 30 years, coupled with forces unleashed during the pandemic, have resulted in universities under pressure to rethink their approaches to internationalisation.

Communication and coordination between the private providers and education institutions are key, and more transparency is needed from service providers to build trust and confidence.

About the authors: This is a sponsored post from David Pilsbury, Chief Development Officer and Professor John Wood, Head of Business Development, Australia and S.E Asia, Oxford International Education Group.

David Pilsbury is the Chief Development Officer at Oxford International Education Group, where he leads the group’s higher education growth and development strategy.

David was previously Deputy Vice Chancellor, International at Coventry University, a position he had held since 2008. He was responsible for all international activities including joint ventures, recruitment, collaborative delivery, curriculum internationalization, mobility and enhancement.

He implemented an ambitious agenda involving a more than 6 fold increase in recruitment; establishing the UK’s largest overseas collaborative delivery programme ~20,000 students in 27 countries; and developing the world’s largest international enhancement programme which has ranked No.1 for overseas mobility since records began.

He has won many awards including a Queen’s Award for Enterprise and the premier award of EAIE and holds a number of Board level positions including with JISC, China-Britain Business Council and advisory positions including with IDP Connect, EURIE, NARIC and the Hainan Provincial Government. He was previously Co-chair of the UUK International Pro-Vice Chancellors Steering Group on the future of Global Engagement, a founding CEO of the Worldwide Universities Network, Head of Research Policy for HEFCE and Assistant Director R&D at Cambridge University Hospital.

David also spent a number of years in strategic consultancy and investment banking after a D.Phil and postdoctoral research at Oxford University.

John Wood, a graduate of UWA and Oxford, John is a distinguished economist and leader with an international career spanning 4 decades in the private and public sectors. His positions include CEO University Partnerships at Navitas where he was an integral part of growing group’s global university operations. Previous leadership roles included the Deputy Vice Chancellor (ECU) and Professor and Dean of Business at Notre Dame. John has a deep knowledge of University and private providers international operations in a range of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Zambia, Sri Lanka, Kenya and the United Kingdom. He has held Executive roles in State and Federal Governments, including in the Office of Prime Minister Hawke at a time when the decision was made to allow Universities to charge fees for international students. John is an experienced Board member and has served as Chair and a director of a number of organisations and has a detailed understanding of regulated industries including education, health, insurance and transport. He currently Chairs UTS’s pathway college in Sri Lanka. He has undertaken reviews and provided strategic advice to universities and private organisations in numerous countries, including Australia ,Singapore, United Kingdom, UAE and Norway. He has an international reputation as an author, having written 2 books and edited 145 volumes on Great Economists and Management Thinkers. A life member of Oxford Business Alumni, John also received an Hononary Doctorate from the Thai Crown Prince for his contribution to global economic thought. He is also a co-founder of the not for profit Centre for Stories where stories are told, shared and kept to encourage a more inclusive society.

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