Pathways to undergraduate study in the UK

This British Council commissioned study provides an overview of the different channels through which international students enter UK undergraduate education. Gaps in currently available data make it difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the relative scale of each of these channels. However, it is possible to gain some insight into trends in recruitment channels by analysing data on undergraduate applicants via UCAS apply centres in the UK and overseas.

Over time there has been a gradual increase in the proportion of undergraduate applicants applying through overseas schools, highlighting the importance of engaging with international schools abroad. However, students at UK-curriculum schools abroad do not necessarily go on to HE study in the UK, and many students instead apply to study in other countries such as the US, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. Ed-Tech services have been developed to support counsellors in international schools, but further support is needed to help counsellors and their students understand the benefits and value of studying in the UK.

Agents have invested in technology in recent years to better serve their clients (both students and universities). Agent Aggregators are a concern for several of the stakeholders interviewed, with one of the main issues being the need to appropriately filter and qualify applicants.  At the same time, they are believed to help universities increase their market reach, with positive effects on recruitment and student diversity on campus.

Private pathway providers have become a key stakeholder in the ecosystem, providing global reach, market intelligence and agility in product development. However, government policies and university’s perceptions of them have not always been favourable. Expansion of their portfolio has seen growing overlap between their activities and the activities of an international office at a university. Some UK universities offer their own in-house pathway / foundation programmes. However, data from UCAS and HESA shows a decline in the significance of in-house programmes as recruitment channels in recent years.

The UK’s further education sector’s international student population has contracted substantially since 2010, which has been attributed to tighter restrictions on work rights for students at these institutions.  Feedback from interviews suggest that there is a need for more targeted events for independent schools based in the UK, such as bespoke recruitment fairs; and for additional help for students in the form of English language support and helping to smooth the transition from school to university.

The report finds that for the UK to strengthen its position as the second most popular study destination for international students in the world, there needs to be more support provided to the key stakeholders in the ecosystem to improve integration across the different levels of education in the UK.