Forget Oxford and Cambridge: Bath Spa University signs deal to 'recruit' 2,000 US and Chinese students

Former higher education college to lure international students as UK universities fight to attract lucrative foreigners

Forget the lure of the leafy spires of Oxford and Cambridge for the hordes of international students now seeking places at UK universities.

Instead, thousands of students from abroad - mostly from China and the United States - will be sampling the delights of the idyllic countryside around Bath instead thanks to a new deal Bath Spa University has signed with student recruitment experts in the United States.

Under it, the university - which currently has a modest 196 overseas or non-European students (making it one of the smallest recruiters of international students in the UK) - will see its overseas intake swell to around 2,000 students over the next four years.

What is happening at Bath Spa is symptomatic of the headlong rush throughout the UK to take in more international students - their numbers have swelled from 88,005 in 2007/8 to 126,295 last year. The rise has been steady over the five year period despite complaints from UK institutions that the Government anti-immigration drive is putting off potential recruits.

The reasons for the rise are twofold. Firstly, since the introduction of the new fees regime of up to £9,000 a year for UK students, there are concerns that the supply of home grown graduates may dwindle. The latest application figures from UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, show a total of 637, 500 applications this year - a rise since last year, the first year of the new regime, but still short of the record of 670,000 achieved two years ago .Secondly, there is recognition in government circles of the economic potential of overseas students - paying, in some cases, full cost fees and spending their money in our economy while resident in the UK.

Only last week Business Secretary Vince Cable announced plans to increase the number of overseas students by 20 per cent over the next five years as part of the Government’s new International Education Strategy.

He urged all universities and independent schools to consider setting up overseas campuses to recruit more students - as has already happened in the case of universities like Nottingham which has already set up its own campuses in China and Malaysia.

Many universities in the UK are already hiring agents to recruit students from abroad - and are said to be handing them up to £1,000 in commission for every student they recruit - bearing in mind they can charge them up to £20, 000 a year in full cost fees.

Back to Bath Spa University, though. In some ways, it is is an unlikely candidate to be leading the drive to recruit more international students. It only gained full university status in August 2005 and was previously known as Bath College of Higher Education and later known as Bath Spa University College It can trace its roots to the Bath School of Art in 1852 and, after the Second World War, ran a teacher training institute geared towards retraining ex-servicemen to become teachers through a year-long course.

Its surroundings were idyllic. Its Newton Park campus is in grounds designed by the English landscape artist Lancelot “Capability” Brown and leased from the Duchy of Cornwall. The site has a lake, a nature reserve, woodlands and arable  farmlands,  As Jeremy White, director of international relations at the university, said:  “We can still give students a ‘Brideshead Revisited’ experience at the university.”

The deal to increase the number of international students has been signed with Shorelight Education, `a US-based education company which specialises in expanding options for student.  In addition to its links with universities in the States, it also has a network of independent schools dotted around the globe.

While it will receive a retainer fee for recruiting students, Shorelight will go into partnership with Bath Spa to set up a new “pathway college” for international students - where it will be able to draw on the teaching expertise of Bath Spa’s academics to teach the students it recruits,  Students at the “Pathway College” will be given an intensive first-year programme which will include language tuition and lessons in the UK’s history and culture.  Subject to them passing the first year, they will then join established degree courses at the university in their second year.  The university has gained national recognition for its respected creative writing course.

In addition to the Pathway College, the joint venture between the two will also involve setting up a Global Business Leadership College specialising in business and management-related degree programmes.

“The UK has a great reputation for providing world-class higher education and this partnership will enable more students from around the world to achieve a UK degree as well as helping the university to grow,” said Mr White. (The university currently has 7,000 students and the new international intake will bring in an estimated 300 extra students in the first year - 2014 - rising to an intake of 2, 000 over four years.  By then, nearly one in four students at the university will be overseas.

The fees for the international students have not been agreed yet but are unlikely to be top of the range for universities - but more in line with the present cost of an international degree at Bath Spa, which is currently set at around £10,500.

“We anticipate it will provide an economic boost for the local community here in Bath from job creation to additional spending in the city centre,” Mr White added.  You can imagine an extra 2,000 overseas students will need to be feed and watered locally in the local community.

Tom Dretler, chief executive officer and co-founder of Shorelight Education, said his firm had been impressed by “the attractiveness of the beautiful and historic city of Bath”.”

“Overseas students make a huge contribution to Britain,” added Mr Cable.  “They boost our economy and enhance our cultural life, which is why there is no cap on the number of legitimate students who can study.”

They will also save many an institution from having to make cuts in provision as the competition hots up for recruits in the brave new financial era ushered in by degree costs for UK students of up to £9,000 a year.  Which is why we may be seeing more initiatives like Bath Spa’s in the months and years ahead.

How foreign students have increased in past five years

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The figures show the number of international students at UK universities has risen every year since top-up fees for home grown students were introduced.

The trend over the past five years have seen them rise from 88,005 in 2007/8 to 126, 295 last year, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The latest figures show the rise is still continuing - in June the number of applications from overseas students stood at 108, 012 - up 5,428 when compared to the corresponding figure for that time last year.

The biggest rise was in applications from Malaysia - up 25.8 per cent to 1,0001.  The largest number, though, came from the Far East - mainly China - with 26, 920 applications.  This was up 2.6 per cent on the same period last year.

According to the respected QS World University Rankings, last year six UK universities - the London School of Economics, the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, University College London, St Andrews, Imperial College and Essex - were amongst the top 20 in the world for the highest proportion of international students.

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