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Governance 

07. International students and collaborations

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Introduction and aim

This briefing note considers the recruitment of international students to study in the UK, international research collaboration and students studying at overseas campuses (referred to as ‘offshore’). All of these areas present opportunities and risk, and require effective leadership and governance.

Effective governance

International recruitment and collaboration is one area where the responsibilities of academic governance and corporate governance come together. While academic matters are the responsibility of the senate (or equivalent); major decisions about international student recruitment or more generally collaboration with an international partner often have resource implications and potentially reputational risks. These areas are a legitimate concern to the governing body and if these two aspects of governance are not effectively aligned problems can occur.

Issues for the governing body

The governing body should discuss and formally agree the institution’s international strategy. The strategy should articulate the aims and objectives, how the strategy will be delivered and associated financial forecasts. The strategy should be subject to regular monitoring, including an assessment of actual performance against planned outcomes. The governing body should be made aware at an early stage of any new and major international developments, and satisfy itself that any proposal fits with the institution’s strategic aims, can be successfully implemented; is accompanied by robust financial forecasts; and does not lead to unacceptable reputational risks.

Demand for higher education

Over the last decade the number of students engaged in higher education across the globe has grown significantly. Demand has been fuelled by governments seeing higher education as a means of developing the country’s future workforce, and individuals as a way to enhance life chances and future earnings.

The growing demand for student places has been met by expanding provision in the home country, but also by a significant flow of students to study at institutions overseas, including in the UK. However, continuing investment by home nations in their own education systems may in future lead to a reduced numbers of students from some countries to the UK.

International research partnerships

Research activity at the highest level has increasingly become global. Academic staff increasingly collaborate with peers working outside of the UK, and may themselves spend time working in different countries. Although research collaborations may arise from individual academic staff collaborating, some higher education providers have also entered into international research partnerships with institutions across the world with the aim of collaborating across different faculties and on multiple projects.1 The success of such partnerships depends on a number of factors not least selecting an appropriate partner, who offers a good ‘fit’ for the institution’s work.

One indicator of the increasingly global nature of higher education and the role of internationally recognised research is the annual publication of world rankings of universities.2

International student recruitment

Many UK institutions have responded to the growth of international demand for higher education by developing strategies to increase the number of international students they, or partner organisations, recruit.

A significant driver to the developments relating to international recruitment has been financial. Institutions set their own fee rates for non-EU (international) students, and are able to recover the full costs of teaching these students. As a result international students normally pay significantly higher fees than those for Home and EU students.

Institutional strategies

The options for institutions when recruiting international students include:

  • Recruiting international students to higher education programmes run in the UK
  • Collaborating or partnering with education providers in overseas countries
  • Developing and managing programmes delivered by the institution outside of the UK, including establishing overseas campuses

Students studying in the UK

For 2012/13 the total number of higher education students studying in the UK was 2,340,275, of which 425,265 (c18.2%) were from outside of the UK. The main sources of non-EU students were China (83,790), India (22,385), Nigeria (17,395), the United States (16,235) and Malaysia (15,015). Student recruitment from the top ten non-EU countries has grown by 19.4% in five years.3

Student recruitment to the UK

Recruitment of international students requires investment to build (and then maintain) the necessary infrastructure (international office, overseas offices, networks of agents, links with local feeder institutions) to recruit students. Some higher education providers have also partnered with a company specialising in the recruitment of international students (eg. INTO). Irrespective of strategy, most institutions focus their efforts in order to target particular countries.

The attractiveness of a UK higher education provider is influenced by a number of factors, including the reputation of the institution, whether there is an existing community of international students at the institution and the support and facilities available. Provision of student accommodation and learner support can be particularly attractive. Some higher education providers also offer linked pre-university foundation years, in some cases delivered by further education partners, as feeders to their degree programmes.

Visas and immigration

Higher education providers need a ‘highly trusted status’ (HTS) license from the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) service, to allow the institution to sponsor international students so that they can gain a visa to study in the UK. A licence is valid for 4 years and institutions are subject to inspection by the UKVI’s assurance team. To maintain its HTS the education provider must comply with a set of conditions specified by the UKVI. Failure to comply with these conditions may lead to the license being suspended or revoked. If the license is revoked students cannot study with the institution, and need to find an alternative sponsor to remain in the UK. The revoking of HTS is likely to have significant financial and reputational impacts.4

International student experience

The governing body is responsible for the quality of the student experience and should assure itself that international students enjoy a positive experience. Feedback from students should be sought to establish if their experience was positive, and to identify areas where further improvement may be needed.

Students studying offshore

Some 598,925 students were studying offshore5 for a UK higher education qualification in 2012/13, an increase of 4.9% on the previous year. A detailed breakdown of the level of study and the relationship with the student is given below.6

Type of activity
Undergraduate Postgraduate Total
Students registered at a UK higher education institution
Overseas campus of reporting HEI 12,280 4,855 17,520
Distance, flexible or distributed learning 62,535 61,110 123,635
Other arrangements, including collaborative provision 84,890 18,905 103,795
Sub-total 159,705 84,860 244,950
Students studying for an award of a UK HEI
Overseas partner organisation 335,645 17,675 353,375
Other   595 595
Sub-total 333,645 18,275 353,975
Total all
495,350 103,135 598,925


Some 87% of the students studying offshore are resident in countries outside of the EU. In the four years from 2008/09, the number of students studying offshore grew by 54%.7

Overseas campuses

Overseas campuses (known as offshore) have on occasions attracted adverse comment. Plans for the development of overseas campuses have, in a number of cases, lead to difficulties for the institution. There have been instances where the governing body has not been fully sighted as to the development and associated risks involved.

Franchise and validation

Overseas campuses represent a small proportion of the total offshore activity, with validation and franchise arrangements being more common. With a franchise arrangement the student is registered at the UK institution, but taught by the institution’s partner on a programme designed by the UK institution. Under a validation arrangement the student is again taught by a partner institution, but is not registered with the UK institution. The student’s achievement of the local qualification is validated by the UK provider in terms of one of its own qualifications.

The selection of international partners to work with is an important consideration when considering quality assurance and the associated reputational risks.

Quality assurance

Institutions are responsible for the academic standards of their awards delivered inside or outside of the UK. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) reviews partnership arrangements made with organisations in others countries to deliver UK programmes, and also reviews delivery on overseas campuses. In the past some of its reports relating to overseas provision have been highly critical.

Questions to consider

  • What is the extent of the institution engagement in international activities?
  • Is there an international strategy, with targets and performance indicators?
  • Is there a good strategic fit between the international strategy and the institution? Can the strategy be successfully implemented? Are the financial forecasts robust? Are the key risks identified and judged acceptable?
  • Does the Senate/academic board effectively monitor overseas partnerships?
  • Is the governing body informed at an early stage of major new developments?
  • Is the institution fully compliant with the requirements of the UKBI?

End notes and further reading

  1. It is possible to differentiate between partnerships at levels one, two and three for both teaching and research activities. See, Fielden J (2011), Getting to Grips with Internationalisation, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, pp.28-29.
  2. See for example www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/world-ranking
  3. Higher Education Statistical Agency, See www.hesa.ac.uk
  4. In August 2012 the UK Border Agency (UKBA), the organisation which preceded the UKVI, revoked the licence of London Metropolitan University (LMU). Following judicial review the UKBA allowed LMU’s existing international students to remain on the University’s courses for the academic year 2012/13.
  5. The term ‘offshore’ describes students who are studying outside of the UK.
  6. Source HESA Aggregate Offshore Record 2012/13.
  7. HESA, Students in Higher Education Institutions 2012/13, Table 11.

September 2014
E: david.williams@lfhe.ac.uk
W: www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance
@LF4HE

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      4. Download MDR4: Lean Management: Doing more with less
      5. Download MDR5: The Current HE Context: Drivers for change
      6. Download MDR6: Commercial Skills for Academics and Researchers
      7. MDR7: Caught in the Middle
        1. MDR7 Contents
        2. Download MDR7: Caught in the Middle
      8. Download MDR8: Working with Academic Motivation and Prestige
    7. Knowledge Bank
    8. Membership community
      1. Members' Directory
    9. MASHEIN
      1. MASHEIN Members
    10. Ten great reasons to be a Leadership Foundation member
      1. #10GreatReasons1
      2. #10GreatReasons2
      3. #10GreatReasons3
      4. #10GreatReasons4
      5. #10GreatReasons5
      6. #10GreatReasons6
      7. #10GreatReasons7
      8. #10GreatReasons8
      9. #10GreatReasons9
      10. #10GreatReasons10

Governance

Aaron Porter

Aaron Porter

Associate Director, Governance

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David Williams

David Williams

Governance Web Editor

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Welcome...

We are a membership organisation of and for a sector that has some of the brightest minds in the UK.

 

Our members are key to our strategy and form a community of higher education institutions with a clear commitment to and experience of developing leadership, governance and management capabilities at all levels. Academic and professional services staff from member institutions contribute to our programmes, projects and research and advise on benefits and services.

 

Find out more about Membership

 

  • Membership benefits

    • 25% discount on our open and in-house programmes and consultancy
    • a free consultancy day
    • exclusive access to research publications, development resources and funding opportunities
    • free regional events
    • funding for Staff Development Forum and MASHEIN activity
    • members’ mailing lists, newsletters and magazine
    • participation in our development networks

    More…

  • How to join

    • Membership is open to all higher education providers and related sector organisations on an annual or three-yearly subscription basis.
    • We have 154 members with around a third taking advantage of the 10% discount offered by three-year subscriptions.

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  • Membership benefits

    • Research and innovation: Access to our latest, highly-valued research, Leadership Insights, Getting to Grips series and practical development project resources.
    • More…

    • Management Development Resources: Flexible workshop materials on key leadership and management development topics, for you to deliver in-house to suit your own contexts NEW: ‘Caught in the Middle’. 
    • More…

    • The Knowledge Bank: Save time with these extensive multi-media training resources for HR, staff development and OD professionals, covering key leadership and management theory and practice.
    • More…

  • Get in touch

    Meet the membership team, your national and regional contacts in the UK and Ireland, and LF networks.

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Leadership Foundation for Higher Education
Peer House, 8-14 Verulam Street
London WC1X 8LZ

T: 020 3468 4810     F: 020 3468 4811

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