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Last Updated: Monday, 24 January, 2005, 18:42 GMT
Scramble to win student millions
By Mike Baker
BBC News education correspondent, in Bangkok

Students looking at university prospectuses
Thai students face plenty of choice of universities
The global competition between universities to attract international students is getting ever fiercer, with big money at stake.

The potential students came streaming through the plush halls of the Bangkok Intercontinental Hotel to be met by videos portraying life in Britain.

Representatives of over 80 UK universities eagerly distributed prospectuses.

This is the Education UK Exhibition, part of the Thai-UK Education Festival organised by the British Council.

The latest figures, just released here, show that more than 5,000 Thai students were recruited by British universities in 2004 - more than double the numbers three or four years ago.

8bn a year

Most are postgraduates, paying university fees of between 7,000 and 15,000 a year.

Overseas students are an increasingly important, and lucrative, market for British universities.

The estimated 175,000 overseas students pay around 1bn in fees and contribute some 8bn to the British economy, according to the British Council.

Tony Sims
Students have a lot of exposure to the English language and they find the British culture not so different from their own, especially sharing a passion for Premiership football
Tony Sims, Kingston University

But Britain has a fight in its hands to maintain its share of the international student market.

The US and - especially in south-east Asia - the Australians are pitching hard.

At Kingston University's stall, in the ballroom of the Intercontinental, they are busy with a regular flow of inquiries.

Last year Kingston recruited 35 students from Thailand, many of them on the MA in Business Management run by Tony Sims which costs 8,000 a year.

With Kingston's international marketing officer, Corinna May, and two locally recruited staff, they are constantly fielding questions about the university's reputation, location and facilities and the cost of living there.

"Thai students are very motivated, they have a lot of exposure to the English language and they find the British culture not so different from their own, especially sharing a passion for Premiership football," said Mr Sims.

Time to work?

In the next hall, Luton University's stand is equally busy.

According to Steve Stephens, regional director of its international office, Luton is one of the UK's biggest international recruiters, with 2,200 overseas students.

He admits that one of the first questions they ask is "where is Luton?" but says they are reassured when they learn it is only a short train journey from London.

He says potential students, especially postgraduates, also want to know about part-time working opportunities to help them meet their costs.

'Where is Luton?' Universities are keen to increase their profiles

Legally, overseas students are allowed to take paid work for up to 20 hours a week during term times and full-time during vacations.

British recruiters realise that international recruitment is sensitive to currency exchange rates, relative fee levels, the availability of work and academic reputation.

They recognise the danger of a "pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap" approach.

They also know they are in a battle with the Australians every bit as competitive as cricket's competition for "The Ashes".

Indeed some British recruiters in Bangkok were complaining about Australian tactics of making binding on-the-spot offers to potential students who turn up at recruitment fairs.

That's why some universities, like Cardiff, now send out academics able to conduct admissions interviews at exhibitions like this.

UK advantage

Don Barry, senior tutor at Cardiff's business school, says he can interview students on the day and make provisional offers subject only to confirmation of their qualifications.

Corinna May, from Kingston University, says the Australians now regularly "turn around" applications within 48 hours from student inquiry to offer and says "we have to compete with that".

The view amongst the British exhibitors was that this year's crowds were busier than ever before. But they acknowledge that students are very market aware and tend to "shop around".

However Steve Stephens, from Luton, says Britain has a big advantage that UK Masters and undergraduate degrees are usually a year shorter than in Australia.

He adds that universities like his are now experimenting with "credit transfer" systems which allow students to do part of their degree in their own country and the remaining part in Britain.

In the past, universities could remain at home and wait for overseas applications to come in. Now they are out there with increasingly glossy brochures and glitzy trade stands.

Being at exhibitions like this gives institutions an edge. It can also help them deal with misapprehensions.

At Cardiff University's stand they were asked in which part of London their campus was located!

Overseas students back UK courses
29 Nov 04 |  Education
Overseas students 'set to triple'
20 Apr 04 |  Education
UK university to open in China
24 Mar 04 |  Education
Country profile: Thailand
08 Jan 05 |  Country profiles

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