The role of English language learning in a sustainable international recruitment strategy

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.

The fifth article in the series considers students’ experiences of English language learning, within the context of sustainability.


The previous article in this series considered how the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be used as a framework to underpin the values and aims of a sustainable international recruitment strategy.

SDG4 seeks to: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ What is the role of English language learning within this?

Students begin their journey into UK higher education with a diverse range of expectations on what quality education looks like. These perspectives will have already been culturally shaped by their unique education systems and, for many, this will include the experience of learning English for the purpose of accessing higher education in the UK.

Focus on competencies in English language learning

English language curricula at primary and secondary level are becoming increasingly focused on competence-based learning outcomes. This approach seeks to ensure that target competencies are fair and equally achievable by all students.

Ecctis (formerly UK NARIC) research helped to define what inclusive and equitable competencies would look like for CBSE India Standard X qualifications.

The Council of Europe states it is committed to contributing to SDG4 through the various competency frameworks which are used as tools to aid curriculum design and implementation across awarding bodies and schools.

Frameworks also serve to help establish multilingualism and plurilingualism within the classroom, reflecting the need for students to be prepared for lifelong learning on a global scale.

UNESCO research finds that 40% of the global population cannot access education because of the language of instruction. Schemes such as International Mother Language Day are key to meeting SDG4 by ensuring that indigenous languages and cultures are preserved in a sustainable manner.

English language in international secondary qualifications

Current Ecctis research which benchmarks English language at upper secondary level to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) draws on the key principles set out by the Council of Europe.

This research is intended to enable a deeper understanding of English language learning at secondary level internationally and provide guidance on whether applicants can demonstrate the required level of English language proficiency via their school leaving qualifications.

English language and international recruitment markets

The EF EPI English Proficiency Index 2021 reports that Africa reflects the most diverse regional range in English language proficiency:

In addition, one third of all countries showing a significant increase in English proficiency scores came from Africa:

On-the-ground observations and maintaining a sustained in-country presence are effective ways of understanding and responding to changes in language education policy and practice.

As international recruitment market trends shift, there is an opportunity to create agile and adaptable strategies which reflect the evolving competencies of international applicants.

For some UK higher education institutions, having an in-country presence represents a significant new challenge. It requires a fresh approach, with a need to quickly develop new expertise if emerging opportunities are to be maximised.

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; skills gap identification; academic qualifications, and 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; agents; direct students; scholarship bodies; ministries; identifying, scoping and TNE opportunities; working with High Commissions and trade bodies; digital solutions, and 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.

Read more:

You may be interested in reading the other articles in this blog series, and you can do so using these links:

What data tells us about the rising importance of South Asia and West Africa to UK admissions departments

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

The value of engaging with a broader range of students’ prior learning experiences and pathways

Sustainable values and societal impact