UK university commission payments rising

23, February, 2015

UK universities spent at least UK£86.7 million on commission payments in the 2013-14 academic year, according to a report by the Times Higher Education (THE) based on Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.


The 106 institutions that provided details of commission payments spent a total of UK£86.7 million, an increase of 16.5 per cent compared with the UK£74.4 million spend in THE’s previous survey two years ago.

Some 58,257 international students were recruited via agents in 2013-14, according to information provided by 124 institutions, a 6.4 per cent rise over the total recorded in the previous survey. 

Based on the 101 institutions that provided both recruitment and payment data, THE calculated that the average commission payment to agents in 2013-14 was UK£1,767. THE said the average undergraduate fees for non-EU students last year were £11,289 for classroom subjects and £13,425 for laboratory-based courses.

Of 158 institutions contacted by THE, only 19 “elite and specialist” institutions reported that they did not use agents.

In the Times Higher Education, Vincenzo Raimo, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Reading, said, “I think in part this is due to increased competition both from within the UK but also elsewhere in the world. We have now seen US universities formally starting to work with agents and being aggressive in the market, and UK universities are having to respond in order to meet ever more ambitious recruitment targets.”

He also said the perceived complexity of the UK visa system was prompting some students to seek the services of an agent. Raimo co-authored a recent British Council-funded advice paper for UK universities on agency usage.  

Coventry University was the most prolific user of agents over the last three years, according to the THE, with UK£10.2 million spent on commissions (although this included fees paid to progression partners) and 5,634 students recruited via agents.

The FOI requests by THE also revealed that there have been just 54 allegations of fraud or impropriety by agents in the last three years. Suspicion of fraudulent documents was the most common allegation, accounting for 17 of the cases.

Richard Garrett, Director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) said in the THE that the figure was “strikingly low relative to the allegations often made against the agent industry”. OBHE recently released the results of a survey on agency satisfaction among students and institutions.  

At the time of writing, UK£1 = US$1.53


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