07 Oct

Students, yes; overstayers, no


Yesterday saw Home Secretary Theresa May, one of the three favourites to succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader, set out her stall at their party conference in Manchester.

Her speech claimed mass migration was harming social cohesion in Britain and she announced plans to toughen rules on entitlement to asylum.

With concern about immigration at an all-time high here in the UK reaction to this hard hitting speech on immigration has divided opinion, with even the traditionally right-wing press seemingly surprised by it’s hard-hitting tone. The Telegraph’s (often nicknamed the Torygraph) by-line was Theresa May’s ‘chilling and bitter’ measures to send illegal migrants home.

Student visas

The Home Secretary also took a swipe at universities saying that she “doesn’t care” what their “lobbyists” say on overseas students.  She insisted that visa rules for international students need to be “enforced”

The UK welcomed the brightest students from around the world, she said.

“But the fact is too many are not returning home as soon as their visas run out,” she continued.

“I don’t care what the university lobbyists say. The rules must be enforced. Students, yes; overstayers, no.”

There has been speculation for some time that universities may be asked to take over responsibility for ensuring that graduates leave the country once their courses are finished.

Students as part of net migration

The speech didn’t mention international students in the context of the net migrant count. The Home Secretary is in favour of students remaining in the government’s target, whilst others in her party take the more pragmatic approach of removing them.  Remember – just last month it was announced that the government’s target of tens of thousands was in tatters, currently sitting at 330,000 (an all-time high).

There is speculation in the sector that if the government does remove students remove students from the net migrant count the trade-off will be a significant tightening of student visas in return.

What does this all mean?

In our most recent survey of international students they told us that the primary reason that they don’t come to the UK is because of lack of PSW options.  There doesn’t seem to be any chance that this will change.

The UK’s current mood music on immigration is also putting students off – there is a perception, despite our claims to welcome the best and brightest, that we are not open to international students.  This makes the job of anyone working in international recruitment much harder.

Any further visa tightening is likely to be met with more negative publicity in the international student community only increasing the perception that the UK is closed to international students.


14 Jul

The challenge to international recruitment continues


Today it is pretty likely the staff in the international offices at universities and colleges across the UK will be trying to comprehend the serious changes announced yesterday to Immigration Rules. The questions being asked about the Rules will likely be:

  • Will they progress unchanged? (likely)
  • Will they have an impact on recruitment and enrolment strategies? (very likely)
  • Don’t they understand, international students are beneficial?  Why are they doing this? (election promises)

The official government line is that “These new rules make a number of changes to the Tier 4 route of the Points-Based System to reduce net migration and to tackle immigration abuse, whilst ensuring we maintain an excellent offer for students who wish to study at our world-class universities.”

Contrast this with the way that it is already being reported:

“Foreign students will be banned from working in the UK and forced to leave as soon as they finish course under Theresa May’s tough new visa rules.”

The Independent

“Work restrictions on foreign students extended in ‘visa fraud crackdown’”

The Guardian

“Foreign students will be banned from working and forced to leave the UK when their course ends.”

The Daily Mail

The main changes under the new rules, that will be presented to MPs next week, will see non-EU students unable to work in the UK while they study and having to leave the country as soon as they finish their course.

Non-EU students accounted for 121,000 immigrants last year and in an attempt to defend her position Ms May pointed to the fact that only 51,000 of those foreign students left the UK, leaving a net influx of 70,000.

At the same time FE colleges will be hit with far tighter measures, including:

  • Reducing the length of further education visas from three years to two.
  • Preventing college students from applying to stay on in Britain and work when they finish their course, unless they leave the country first.
  • Preventing further education students from extending their studies in Britain unless they are registered at an institution with a formal link to a university.

The number of international students in FE has plummeted in recent years from a peak of more than 110,000 in 2011 to 18,297 in the last 12 months.

If you are super interested you can read the full statement here.

Why are they doing this?

It comes back to an election manifesto commitment to reduce net migration to “the tens of thousands” at the last election.  They failed, from September 2013 to September 2014, net migration was 298,000.  Despite this, the promise was reiterated during the last campaign.  Unable to impact EU migration the government has turned its sights, despite sustained lobbying by the sector, to international students who make up the largest proportion of net migrants.

So…what is this all likely to mean?

In our past surveys, international students have clearly told us that when choosing a country that the country’s attitude towards international students and whether they can expect a warm welcome is one of the most important factors.  On the face of it these changes will do nothing enhance the expectation of a warm welcome.

The UK has already seen a levelling off of growth in international students since the changes to the Post Study Work Visa were made in four years ago.  Figures from HESA (2013-14) show that the number of students from outside the UK coming to study in the UK increased by 3% to 435,500.  Indian students, the second largest cohort at 19,750 saw a drop of 2,635 on the previous year and most commentators attribute this to the change to the PSW.  Expect this to continue, particularly for countries where the students rely on some kind of part time work during study.

In the face of gains made by other countries with increasingly (and competitively) open and welcoming attitudes towards international students, I expect UK based international recruiters will be feeling this has just made their job a whole lot harder.

02 Jul

Whole Student Lifecycle approach endorsed by new Minister


Yesterday the new Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson made his first major, and much anticipated speech, about higher education.

The title of the speech ‘Teaching at the heart of the system’ signals his overall thinking and policy ideas about the future of the sector.  At Hobsons we are excited to see that the Minister has reinforced the need for a whole student lifecycle approach, an approach that we’ve been taking for sometime with our advising and admissions solutions.

You can read the full speech here and we think that as usual there is some particularly good analysis from Mark at wonkhe!

We were most interested to hear the Minister say that universities must continue to provide, and look to meet, student’s value for money expectations.  He also said that students should be able to make informed choices and that he will push for more data to be available.  We are big believers in more effective use of data!

We were also pleased to see a renewed commitment to teaching excellence including that institutions should admit students from a range of backgrounds and support their retention and progression to further study or a graduate job and, critically, that there should be clear set of outcome-focused criteria and metrics to support this.

We’ve been digesting and examining what it means for Hobsons and our clients and we think it means three main things:

One: Institutions that we work with are increasingly making better use of tools like Radius CRM to provide their prospective students with a joined up experience and timely, targeted and personalised communications.

Two: We’ve seen the institutions we work with really start to leverage systems, particularly at key times in the year like the lead up to clearing, to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

Three: We are increasingly hearing from institutions that want to enhance their student success and retention initiatives and support students achieve their academic goals.

We are excited that later this year we will be providing the opportunity for more UK universities to access the Starfish Student Success solution and I’m personally looking forward to talking to delegates at the AMOSSHE conference next week about the impact it has already had for some institutions.

24 Apr

Are you following up with international students?

LFHE Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking to another of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education’s governor toolkit training sessions. The three day sessions are designed to give both new and experienced governors of UK universities an overview of the key topics  in the current HE environment. I shared our research on international student decision making, including what’s important to students at each stage of their journey. I finished by sharing a few “cheat” questions to take back to their own institutions including:

  • Do we have a clear idea of what type of prospective international students we are attracting?
  • What information do we collect at the outset and how does this help us understand our prospective international students?
  • Are we doing enough active follow up, either after an enquiry or at offer stage?

Of particular interest was follow up. A number of the institutions present in the room had been included in our mystery shopping conducted in February and March. Their initial responses to our student enquirer were timely, detailed and personalised (in most cases). However my mystery shopper told me before this event that none of these universities, in fact, most of the UK universities we’ve mystery shopped in the last month (some 60+) haven’t been in contact with him since. I’m not in the business of naming and shaming, but do get in touch if you are interested to see how your university fared! Thanks again to Aaron Porter and the team at the LFHE for the opportunity – I’m looking forward to sharing our fresh research with you in a few months!

31 Mar

UCAS Conference Review: What’s the student view?

Yesterday I presented at the UCAS Annual Conference running a session on international student decision making. Download the slides today.

Each year we survey students asking what’s important during the enquiry and application process.  One thing that is consistently highlighted as important to students at enquiry stage is “responsiveness of the university”, students use it as an indicator of teaching quality.  When it comes to responsiveness they expect a detailed reply within three days or a short reply within 24 hours.  You can get more insight in the full report Beyond the Data: Understanding International Student Decision Making.

As part of the session I asked the delegates when the last time was that they looked at their enquiry processes through the eyes of a prospective student, particularly an international student.  I also asked: Read More

27 Mar

UCAS Admissions Conference 2015: CRM Session Preview

UCAS Conference 2015

Next week Daniel Falls our solutions consultant and I have the pleasure of running  two sessions at the Annual UCAS Admissions Conference being held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport.

The first session will focus on what makes a good CRM implementation project.  We will be running this session with Alex Causton-Ronaldson.  Alex shared his experiences of implementing Radius our new flagship CRM at our recent client conference.

We are unique position of having worked with thousands of universities globally (including over 60 in the UK!) to implement new systems.  Our session will give attendees our top tips, here is a sneak preview:

1. Planning. Planning. Planning.
2. Make sure you have enough resources, it’s often more than you’d expect!
3. Get the data right. Not having a dedicated data contact can make or break implementation.
4. Consider who is going to be responsible day-to-day post implementation and get them involved from day one.

Probably the most important thing that we’ve found is the need to find the balance between a quick implementation and making sure we create a functional system and effective process so that you can maximise your institution’s success as well as your student’s experiences!

We’ll be uploading the slides after the event next week.  Hope to see you there!

18 Mar

What’s the challenge for smaller specialist institutions?


Yesterday Daniel Falls and I had the pleasure of talking to a group of communications and marketing professionals from GuildHE institutions.  Over the last couple of years we’ve started working with an increasing number of GuildHE institutions some of whom are making investments in CRM or application technology and others who are looking to improve their engagement and insight into their recruitment processes.

Claire Lorrain from Winchester University shared her thoughts at our recent Hobsons University Conference.

Dan and I provided an overview of a what’s important to international students in their decision making, how to build and maintain relationships with students throughout their applicant journey and shared some tips on what you can do to make your institution stand out based on our research Beyond the Data: Influencing International Student Decision Making.

One issue that came up during the discussion, and we’ve seen recently a fair bit, is the need to continue communications to students once they have enrolled.  There was a consensus that it was needed but we thought it was interesting that it was coming from a variety of directions including alumni teams, push to get better NSS scores or a general push to improve retention.

If you’d like to see our presentation check it out here.

Big thanks to Alex, Dee and the team for putting on this great networking forum!  We are looking forward to the next one!

26 Nov

Study UK Annual Conference


Yesterday we had the pleasure of presenting a workshop at the annual Study UK Conference in London.  Attended by over 150 delegates the conference heard from a stellar line up of speakers including Rt Hon David Hanson MP, Shadow Minister for Immigration.  The engaged audience of independent providers heard that immigration is good for Britain and that if there was a change of government students would not be part of the net migration target and his party would look for ways to increase clarity around Tier 4, access to work and volunteering opportunities.

Our afternoon session looked at the findings of our second international student survey Beyond the Data: Influencing International Student Decision Making.  The audience heard how international students decide where to study and what the most important factors are in their decision making.  For those that would like a copy of the presentation you can download it here.

Thanks again to Study UK and conference attendees for a great day!


19 Sep

Celebrating EAIE 2014

We packed a lot into the Hobsons’ schedule for EAIE 2014, in addition to exhibiting, demonstrating our new Student Lifecycle Management solution Radius, running workshops on “What Do International Students Really Want?” and hosting the M&R reception, we also had a chance to talk with some of our 5,000 fellow delegates and take in some of the sessions.
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