International student mobility moves with the times

Published 29/03/2024

Providing information for international students to make informed educational choices used to be about distributing hard-copy university prospectuses and organising recruitment exhibitions.

Even 25 years ago, websites were very basic. Students would mostly browse through university brochures to make choices about their future study options.

Today, the landscape has evolved but students want the same thing, to be reliably informed.

In 1999 when the internet became the go-to source of information, the British Council was asked by the UK government’s Prime Minister’s Initiative to develop a national website to position the UK as a world leading study destination (Education UK, then Study UK), to stop providing education counselling services to prospective international students, and instead train education agents and school counsellors.

It was part of a growth strategy, to reach more students through training external agents and counsellors.

Fast forward to 2011 and the British Council was no longer funded by the PMI to train agents.

In 2013 the UK’s Global Growth and Prosperity Strategy was launched and it reinforced the need to protect international students coming to the UK and indeed referenced the ‘Statement of principles for the Ethical Recruitment of International Students by Education Agents and Consultants’, known as the London Statement.

In 2019 the sector saw the launch the International Education Strategy and the announcement of the Graduate Route to enhance post-study work opportunities for international graduates.

As a result, the demand for studying in the UK grew and it became apparent that as the UK needed to strengthen its position as a study destination for international students, and to assist, inform and improve the ethical practice of the ever-growing group we call education agents.

Therefore, in 2022 the British Council, along with sector partners UUKI, BUILA and UKCISA, launched the Agent Quality Framework.

We now have nearly 20,000 agents and counsellors from more 129 countries registered on our agent hub.

The higher education sector has welcomed our agent training and 126 UK higher education providers have already signed the AQF pledge stating that all the agents they work with will undertake our training.

Large scale agencies are now signing the pledge, including IDP, SIUK, Edvoy, Amber, Applyboard and many others.

National agent associations around the world want to work with the AQF as they wish to be recognised as ‘quality source’ markets.

Pathway providers including INTO, Study Group, Kaplan, OIEG, Cambridge and others have also signed the pledge.

As a people-to-people organisation, the British Council has always recognised the importance of empowering the people with whom we work. Our training is open to all individuals whether they work for a multinational, a specialist agency, an SME, or they are a sole trader.

“It is important to note that we certify counsellors for their knowledge”

We understand that not all agents are contracted by a UK education provider, so the training is also open to counsellors that are working as ‘sub-agents’ and as non-contracted agents.

It is important to note that we certify counsellors for their knowledge and for their awareness of the UK as a study destination.

Our database of certified agents lists all the agents and counsellors who have successfully passed the assessments and agreed to the ethical principles set out in the national code of ethical conduct. As such, our public-facing database enables governments across the UK, education providers, prospective international students and their parents to check that the agent they are working with is certified.

The British Council will celebrate its 90th anniversary this year.

During those 90 years we have been involved in multiple programs and initiatives that have supported international student mobility, from hard-copy university prospectuses to the Agent Quality Framework.

International students have always been at the heart of our work. We measure our success on building long term international relationships, therefore it is critically important that all students have a positive experience with their agent.

That should lead to a better study experience and encourage them to build and develop long term ties and a strong relationship with the UK for years to come.

About the author: Jacqui Jenkins is the Global Programme Lead for International Student Mobility at British Council. The ISM programme sets out how the British Council works with those that influence prospective international students to improve the pre-enrolment experience. Jacqui launched the UK’s agent and counsellor training and engagement platform in December 2022, which has become an integral part of the UK’s Agent Quality Framework. Jacqui has had an extensive career at the British Council and has been instrumental is setting up Going Global conference (2004-13), the global Study UK Alumni Awards (2013-17) and she was the education adviser to the UK’s Government GREAT Britain Campaign; Study UK (2016-19).

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