Around the world (of admissions) in 80 days

Vanessa Carlton travelled 1,000 miles. The Proclaimers walked 500 miles. However far you’ve travelled to study in England, the OfS wants to hear from you.

Four students sitting on the ground laughing, one with a laptop

I have met thousands of international students during my time both at the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) and the National Union of Students (NUS). They are full of talent, ambition and a passion to drive change. A student who travels across countries and continents to access education has the hopes and dreams of so many people behind them – they are a person who will be an asset to the growth of their communities and their home country. The depth of our understanding is determined by our experiences. Many of us are thousands of miles away from home, experiencing migration to isolation, all to fulfil a dream.

When it comes to higher education, the UK’s reputation precedes itself. Ten years ago, after my primary and secondary schooling in China (a largely ethnically homogenous society), I decided to leave my family and friends to travel study in England. My education and personal development benefited greatly from the huge diversity of cultures present at UK universities. But none of this would have been possible without navigating the first hurdle – the admissions process.

Back in February, the Office for Students launched its review to examine whether the current admissions system is working in the interests of students. Previously, much of the focus has been on home students, but the experience of being admitted to universities is a concern for international students too. So – calling all international students! The OfS wants to hear from you.

The name’s Bond. James Bond

James Bond may be the most famous English secret agent, but it is no secret that a small number of agents are making a killing out of international student applications.

The number of students applying to study abroad has increased dramatically in recent years. As competition to recruit international students grows, so too has the use of recruitment agents. These are now used by many providers of higher education, including colleges and universities.

But does the use of agents help or hinder international students? Are there practices or behaviours that help students to make choices? Is the information they provide accurate, and the expectations they set for courses and the wider student experience the right ones?

Over the years I have heard positives and negatives about agents. For some students, the agent was key to helping them choose a university and secure a place. But others have been let down or even misinformed.

This is an area that the OfS are looking to understand more about. Did you use a recruitment agent when you applied?

Lost in translation?

For many international students, applying to university is their first experience of dealing with English ‘officialdom’. The change from school to university and the thought of flying the nest can be stressful enough, even before you factor in a whole new country and potentially a whole new language. This is why the admissions system needs to be clear and easy to understand.

How easy did you find the process to understand when you applied? Was the application process what you expected? Was your course what you expected?

Game, set and match

There is concern in some parts of the sector that international students may not always be matched to courses and universities which best suit their needs, achievement and potential. Instead, the concern is that the focus is sometimes more on the income that they provide.

I’ve met students who feel they were rightly recruited on the basis of their academic potential but are perceived as not ‘up to standard’ by other students or academic staff.

Did the admissions process that you went through enable you to choose a course and university that was right for you? Were the entry requirements for your course, and how you met those requirements, made clear to you? If you were promised as part of your offer additional support for language or cultural integration to access the programme, did this work out? Did your university have things in place to ensure you could succeed? For university and college staff who teach or support international students, what’s your experience?

Of course, the consultation covers more than the issues I’ve talked about here. There is a whole world of admissions out there and every student has a unique experience. You can find a full list of the issues that the OfS is looking at, as well as more details on what they’re doing and how they plan do to it, in their short guide. Keep an eye out for other ways you can get involved too!

Respond to the consultation on admissions


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Published 16 March 2020

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