What can analysis of our data tell UK higher education institutions about emerging international markets?

UK universities and higher education institutions are re-examining their recruitment strategies and models, with a focus on long-term sustainability and the need to diversify international student recruitment.

This major blog series, ‘Strategies for sustainability: diversifying international student recruitment’, focuses on a range of factors that institutions need to consider as they reshape their strategies and recruitment programmes – sustainability in finance, environmental impact, progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and institutions’ values overall.

The series covers: what data tells us about the rising importance of South Asia and West Africa to UK admissions departments; insights into other emerging international markets; the value of engaging with a broader range of students’ prior learning experiences and pathways; sustainable values and societal impact; English language proficiency; environmental sustainability; sustainable presence and practice; and the bigger picture including how success can be measured.

In the second article of the series, we take a closer look at what Ecctis member enquiry data tells us about some more of the emerging global markets that UK institutions should consider as they shape their future strategies.  


The rapid changes and uncertainties of recent years, created by COVID-19, Brexit and other factors, have highlighted to UK universities and higher education institutions the importance of diversifying their international student recruitment efforts.

The early stages of the pandemic spotlighted the risks involved with over-reliance on a single country. This remains a key consideration.

China is still the largest source of international students by a sizeable margin. However, a diverse intake of students across different levels and subjects of study, as well as across institutions and the sector as a whole, can increase the sustainability of student recruitment and build resilience.

In addition, the benefits of diversification go beyond spreading risk and ensuring financial sustainability. A more diverse student body can enhance the student experience, contribute to building a strong international reputation, and boost employability for graduates in a globalised labour market.

Emerging trends, emerging markets

Careful analysis of patterns in Ecctis member enquiry data provides useful insight into changes currently taking place across UK higher education sector recruitment. It also helps us understand trends we might expect to see developing over the next few years.

A close look at the data shows that many UK institutions are looking at non-traditional and emerging markets to diversify their recruitment.

The previous article in this blog series examined the key shift towards South Asia and West Africa, particularly India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Yet it is important to understand that other regions are also seeing growth in enquiry numbers.

We can look, for example, to Africa, where it is clear that Nigeria and Ghana are not the only countries where there has been an increase in interest.

North and East Africa

Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia all saw significant growth between 2019 and 2021, suggesting that North Africa is becoming a region of focus for some institutions. Recent reforms in these countries have promoted English as the medium of instruction in higher education.

East Africa also stands out as a growth area for our members, with increasing numbers of enquiries being submitted about Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Other global trends

Latin America is also a region showing growth. Enquiries about Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Ecuador have increased since 2019. Numbers are still low in comparison with major markets, with the exception of Brazil, which sits just outside the top 10 countries for member enquiries overall.

There are opportunities in many regions, with a wide range of other countries also receiving increased interest.

The steady rise in numbers of students from Turkey coming to the UK in recent years is reflected in more questions about the country, suggesting that the growth will continue.

In Southeast Asia, enquiries about Thailand and the Philippines have risen. And enquiries about the US, Australia and New Zealand have also increased, corresponding with continued growth in student numbers from these countries.

Regional mobility

Patterns of regional mobility are also reflected in the enquiries submitted by our members, most notably in the number of enquiries relating to qualifications studied in Benin, many of which are held by Nigerian nationals.

In other regions, transnational education programmes are often studied by international students; for example, Indonesian students studying in Malaysia.

The pathways followed by international students are increasingly varied and global in nature. In the next article in this series, we will take a closer look at various factors that UK institutions should consider when they seek to understand prospective markets, and why they need to engage with a broader range of students’ prior learning experiences and pathways.

Support for sustainable recruitment strategies

Ecctis is developing new services to help our members devise and implement new, sustainable, diversified recruitment strategies.

Our partnership with SJRennie Consulting Ltd and AfaraEd enables UK institutions to work with us to develop solutions, as highlighted by the case study below.

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK

Recruitment staff at The University of Strathclyde engaged with SJR Consulting having noticed a decline in the university’s West Africa numbers, and having heard about their work and reputation in that market.

‘After a simple briefing process, SJR Consulting came onto campus for a comprehensive two-day workshop to fully understand how our university operated,’ says Rachel MacSween, Head of Recruitment and International.

‘This covered a range of university functions, from finance and admissions, through to marketing and recruitment across both faculty and central teams.

‘This approach has enabled recommendations and suggestions to be appropriate to us, our systems and processes and our university values.’