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The UK as an International Student's Destination

Posted by Daniel Barrass on December 16, 2016

Students. Every institution needs them. So in today’s saturated marketplace, how do you ensure that you attract the best students for you? Now throw in to the mix the complexities of enticing students from overseas and the task becomes a lot more challenging.

HE evening - blog header.jpgTribal invited Professor Simon Gaskell, the President and Principal at Queen Mary University London and Vikki Goddard, the Chief Operating Officer at University of Salford to give their view on the UK as an international student’s destination, and just how they go about it and if that differs depending on where you are based in the UK.

So what is the current situation for Salford and QMUL? The University of Salford’s current intake for international students is 13% (pushing up to 17% depending on the campus and method of study) – pretty steady rate for the past five years. As the University develops further its internationalisation agenda, it is expected that this will increase over the next five years.

As for QMUL, based in East London, the numbers rise significantly – as many would expect. The percentage for 2015/6 is 37%. The overall number of overseas students has risen to almost 6,000 this year (from 163 different countries) with an additional 3100 of those studying for a QMUL degree in China. Since 2011/2, the total number of international students has risen by [on average] 7.2%.

The backdrop to all of this is the changing landscape of internationalisation through Immigration and visa policy; an increase in competition (and the rules of engagement); the Teaching Excellence Framework; and the challenges (both tangible and perceived) of BREXIT and President-elect Donald Trump.

QMUL’s population of UK students is unusually diverse – ethnically and socially. “This may increase our attraction to overseas students” says Gaskell. “We have worked hard to counter the effects of the perception, arising from government initiatives, that the UK no longer welcomes overseas students. The effort is worthwhile; we have this year recruited more Indian students than ever before.”

At the University of Salford the number one issue is immigration and visa policy and how this aligns to international education as an export policy. There is no doubt that the current government making the landscape increasingly difficult for the UK as it links immigration statistics to international student recruitment rather than the economic, social and cultural benefits. “To address this it is vital for all institutions to be part of a sector-wide initiatives to engage with UK government and policy makers, driving through the benefits of universities and international recruitment to local and national communities that universities serve.” says Goddard.

In spite of the aforementioned factors, why is it important to have an international recruitment strategy anyway? The Humboldtian notion of knowledge creation and dissemination towards a multitude of stakeholders is at the core of why a university operates. If this view is to be allowed to flourish then it cannot be stifled by mere lines on a map (or more accurately lines in a trade agreement). Both Gaskell and Goddard agree that education is only enhanced by a global perspective in our research and our teaching.


“There are so many positives to having such a growing international student population.”


“Human knowledge should not be restricted by international boundaries."

There are so many positives to having a growing international student body. Cultural diversity and the commitment to a truly international experience for both the overseas and native student, staff member or any other stakeholder for that matter; It is important to point out that the financial viability of some courses, particularly at Masters Level, that would not be sustainable based on UK student recruitment alone.

Goddard sums it up brilliantly by saying “As an institution of education, our duty is to provide ‘education for all’ which translates to a global context. All universities, however small, are global institutions and therefore can no longer operate just within a local context and benefit widely from different forms of international outreach and development. Salford serves the local, national and international community, adding to an already diverse community and bringing cultures together.”


"The number one issue for all UK universities is immigration and visa policy and how this aligns to international education as an export policy.”


“Being located in Greater Manchester, a global city and in the shadows of Manchester United is cited by many of our students as a key reason of choice.”

At AACRAO SEM in Texas last month, I heard first hand of real-life examples of the international student community enhancing links with their hosts at the University of Manitoba and playing an active role in different cultures together through a shared experience of living far from home. Closer to home, at Kings College London, where international arrivals say that being part of a different cohort of student’s (to those from the same country) has had massive benefits to them and contributed to more staying on after study to work and contribute to the economy.
The real question is ‘not what you can offer the international student, but what can they offer you and your community?’

The UK as an International Student’s destination was the first in a new series of Tribal’s Higher Education Evening – to find out more and to register your interest in further evenings, visit

Click here to read our interview with Dr Cate Gribble, Senior Research Fellow at RMIT

Topics: Higher Education

Picture of Daniel Barrass

Written by Daniel Barrass

Higher Education Marketing Business Partner, Tribal Group