International recruitment strategy: the need for sustainable presence and practice

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 seventh article in the series considers how institutions can create and maintain consistent recruitment networks, employing sustainable practice in doing so.


Sustainability within international recruitment strategy covers a wide range of issues. As well as underpinning the UN Sustainable Development goals, sustainability is key when considering the longevity of recruitment opportunities. Sustaining an established in-country presence can prove challenging. In addition, with some markets continuing to generate high volumes of applications, admissions practices need to be able to cope with surges throughout the application cycle. For many institutions, maintaining a strong in-country presence is one method of sustaining consistent recruitment networks and alleviating the strain on admissions teams.

Student experience

The COVID-19 pandemic created new opportunities for students to engage and interact with institutions. The journey from discovery, to enquirer, to applicant, to student can take 18 months, on average, and many institutions are keen to engage with people on this journey early in the process. The #WeAreInternational Student Charter [PDF] reflects students’ expectations for a holistic and integrated approach, resulting in strategies which focus on long-term investment in the student journey. It is becoming increasingly important for students to see how institutions are deeply rooted in their pre-application and post-graduation stages.

‘Sustainable and impactful change in the international student experience comes from cohesive and interconnected actions and strategies rather than from ad hoc or occasional efforts.’ (#WeAreInternational Student Charter, UKCISA [PDF])

Routes to sustainable presence

Working with educational agents continues to be one of the most common ways of maintaining a presence among potential students and parents. The Good Practice Guide, 2021 (Universities UK International and British Universities’ International Liaison Association) [PDF] provides best practice guidance for institutions seeking to enhance ways of working with educational agents.

Transnational Education (TNE) is another route to establishing a sustained presence. Navigating the political, financial, regulatory, and digital landscape of a potential new market can be complex. Current Ecctis research [PDF}, commissioned by the UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office, provides intelligence on the feasibility of international branch campuses in the ASEAN region. This research seeks to provide in-depth insights for higher education decision-makers when considering investment in TNE projects.

Source: International Facts and Figures, 2022 (Universities UK International)

Regional hubs and university access centres can be an effective means of engaging in the student journey. Hubs can be useful for bringing together enquirers, applicants, and alumni, as well as university admissions, recruitment, and academic staff. Alternatively, an entire region may act as an educational hub, as can be seen with Morocco. This regional hub seeks to enable a new generation of universities to operate under common standards of practice and governance, and therefore facilitate student mobility from Africa and the Middle East.

New approaches: support for sustainable recruitment strategies

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.

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

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

A greener future: environmental sustainability and international student recruitment