By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

Last week I attended the International Higher Education Forum in London, a conference that gathered a range of delegates under the theme of recruiting and retaining international students.

As interesting as the event was, agents were largely absent from many of the discussions, many of which were analyses of data and forecasting of future mobility trends, as well as topics such as online delivery and application processes. Nonetheless, one speaker did acknowledge that the agents are vital for the UK’s recruitment interests in most of its key markets.

A guest speaker at the event was the UK Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts – indeed the event took place inside his department’s building. The Minister had some fine words in praise of the contribution that international education makes to the UK.

He also pledged support for UK institutions to send more students abroad, revealing that many of his counterparts around the world raise this point with him when discussing study abroad opportunities; they expect a two-way process rather than a blank cheque for sending students in one direction.

This is becoming a recurring theme across many of the top tertiary destinations. As I reported in our special report on global trends in higher education mobility last month, only Germany can really claim to be both receiving and sending students in significant numbers.

The elephant in the room was the fact that the UK’s immigration department may not be quite as enthusiastic about international students as Mr Willetts clearly is, although he pointedly reiterated that there is not and will not be a cap on students.

However, in the subsequent plenary speech, Karan McBride, President and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) provided a contrasting study for the mostly British audience on how a rival destination has implemented recruitment strategies and differing visa regimes, including post-study work rights and migration routes.

Her revelation that from a CBIE survey of international students in 2013, 46 per cent of those that were planning to start work after graduation – rather than continuing their studies - intended to do so as a permanent migrant in Canada, while a further 25 per cent wished to work in Canada for up to three years before returning home.

Alas Mr Willetts had left the room by the time this statistic was unveiled, but I’m sure most of the delegates would have loved to gauge his reaction.

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