Engaging with a broader range of students’ prior learning experiences and pathways

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 this, the third article of the series, we look at some of the factors that will help universities and higher education institutions understand prospective markets as they seek to shape and implement sustainable and diversified recruitment strategies.


Identifying new markets and understanding demand within different countries and regions presents UK institutions with a number of challenges:

Headline statistics, such as demographic data and enrolment rates can give a broad indication of where there is growing demand for higher education and potential growth in outbound student mobility. However, understanding cohort size and the proportion of students which would form the prospective market provides a more accurate assessment of potential for recruitment.

Insights into local education systems are important to build up an understanding of the qualifications that students will use for entry, and of their readiness to embark on undergraduate or postgraduate study.

Varying levels of English language proficiency

English language proficiency is also an important element of HE readiness. Levels of English language proficiency vary between and within countries, even where English is an official language or is widely spoken.

Previous study through the medium of English does not necessarily equip students with the English language skills they will require to study a degree programme.

In addition, approaches to teaching and learning vary between countries. Students’ experiences in their previous education provide them with different levels of preparedness for UK higher education study, particularly in the areas of independent study and critical thinking.

Changing modes of study: flexibility in preparing and supporting students

Recruiting students from a wider range of countries also demands flexibility and engagement with a broader range of prior learning experiences and student pathways.

In the current landscape, this equally applies to established markets. Following the disruption of the past few years, many students are returning to education to upskill or to retrain for a new career.

Students from different backgrounds are looking to access higher education, with non-traditional, vocational, professional or legacy qualifications. There needs to be a flexible approach to preparing students for study, and in the support made available to them.

There is also increased demand for flexible modes of study, such as online and hybrid delivery, and part-time study options.

Working with local partners

The potential for use of technology and online provision to provide ways of accessing education that are more compatible with work and caring responsibilities is now well understood by learners and providers. Non-traditional modes of study have gained wider acceptance, and educational pathways are increasingly diverse and non-linear.

The flexibility that is necessary in both preparing and supporting students, and in programme delivery, can be significantly enhanced by working with local partners.

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 in the following areas with a specific focus on Sub-Saharan Africa:

•          Market entry solutions and strategy for market newcomers and institutions looking to scale up their operations

•          Developing the business plan for target countries to include:

-Number of globally mobile students

-Country economic indicators

-Key industries and economic growth plans for the country

-What are the skills gaps?

-Academic qualifications

-English language levels

•          Developing sustainable recruitment pathways that build in diversity and take account of risk including:

-Local foundation and pathway providers

-Local and international K12 schools


-Direct students

-Scholarship Bodies


-Identifying, scoping and TNE opportunities

-Working with High Commissions and Trade Bodies

-Digital solutions

-Exhibitions and trade events

•          On-the-ground recruitment of key staff and providing an independent infrastructure for them to thrive

•          Logistical, on-the-ground support

•          Lead generation, application volumes, application quality, conversion, enrolment and retention

•          On-the-ground and virtual itineraries including all logistics

•          Ongoing consultancy, mentoring, networking, advice and support.