Blog 🏛️ University 13th July 2023

5 International Student Recruitment Challenges UK Universities Face in 2023

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Profile image of Zahra Onsori
Zahra Onsori University Content Writer

Adapting recruitment strategies to mitigate government legislation change. Managing stakeholders. Overcoming resource issues. Juggling domestic and international recruitment. 

These are just some of the challenges that UK universities are facing in 2023. 

In partnership with Pie Live, we sat down with 5 UK universities to discuss the difficulties they face in the international recruitment sphere.  

It was a fruitful discussion and a reminder of the diversity in roles and difficulties faced within international higher education. 

We share some of the pain points and reflections discussed in the roundtable, and using BridgeU insights will provide possible solutions to these problems. But before we dive in, some topics we’ll be discussing include;

  • The shift in international vs domestic enrollment 
  • How to align your resource team with international recruitment goals
  • How to increase your international brand awareness whilst juggling other responsibilities
  • Why it’s important to diversify your international recruitment markets

Who took part in the PIE roundtable?

Before we launch into the discussion, the UK Universities that joined us in the discussion were the following;

  • The University of Salford – represented by Lynne Barrows, Director of UK and International Recruitment
  • The University of Sheffield – represented by Chris Cagney, Senior International Recruitment Manager 
  • The University of the Creative Arts (UCA) – represented by Ross Davidson, Director
  • Ulster University – represented by Sven Schottmann, Associate Dean for Development & Partnerships for Arts, Humanities and Social Science
  • Hertfordshire University – represented by James Perrin, Director of International Partnerships
  • Loughborough University – represented by Martyn Edwards, Director of Marketing & Advancement

International enrolment increases, whilst domestic enrolment is slowing

Universities partaking in the roundtable discussion agreed that domestic enrollment numbers were on the decline, and agreed that international numbers will be compensating for this downward domestic trend.

A few of the universities on the panel agreed that they had shifted their international recruitment strategies in the last few years in order to increase the quantity and quality of international students, which had been fruitful.

And so, at the same time as this domestic enrollment cliff, international student mobility is on the rise, which was something that was tangible to all universities on the panel. With the UK hitting its international recruitment goal 10 years early as of 2022, this may come as no surprise to you. 

James Perrin, Director of International Partnerships at Hertfordshire University, described this boom in international recruitment as a ‘post covid bounce.’ The rest of the panel agreed and highlighted that they recorded their largest international student cohort yet. 

Following this shift in enrollment, it’s even more important that international recruitment challenges can be overcome.

Making sure student recruitment aligns with other team resources

With all the UK universities in the roundtable discussion agreeing that international recruitment was at an all-time high, this in itself comes with its own challenges. 

In particular, Salford University highlighted that it was a challenge to align this high demand with university resources available, especially when it came to accommodation.

This is a crucial point. Your international recruitment efforts have paid off. What now?

We understand that Salford is not alone here, and having limited resources means there is little you can do to manoeuvre around this barrier.

Instead, having foresight is the most important thing here, which will help you to mitigate the circumstances later on. 

For example, offering all unconditional domestic applicants and first-year international students a guaranteed accommodation space sounds nice on paper, but are you going to be able to deliver these results effectively? 

And whilst it may not stop the problem in itself, looking ahead at these strategy outcomes can be the difference between some student outfall versus a total disaster.

Remember, a good recruitment plan doesn’t just account for student acquisition, but also what happens after. 

Brand awareness challenges are different in the international context

How can you grow your international brand awareness, whilst not letting this affect your domestic enrollment efforts?

It’s a tough balance to strike, and you’re definitely not alone if you find yourself struggling with this.

Brand awareness is a challenging feat for many universities, including Martyn Edwards at Loughborough, who shared his concerns. 

Whilst Loughborough’s domestic ranking lies within the UK top 10, this prestige isn’t shared across the international QS ranking. Because of this, they’re now looking to extend their global awareness, but have found this takes up more time and resources. 

Martyn shared that some people only know Loughborough for sports or haven’t heard of them at all because they cannot pronounce it. 

If you find yourself in the same position, here are some tips we thought useful to share.

First, it’s important to be realistic about what type of students you want to attract, and whether this falls in line with your universities image and reputation.

By doing this, you can set realistic expectations and delegate goals that match up with the resources available to you. For example, if you’re a creative arts university, it could be slightly unrealistic to expect STEM students to naturally gravitate towards your institution. 

Understanding real-time regional market insights will give you access to the nuance in student decision-making, which will become the heart of your brand awareness strategy.

For example, depending on the region, stakeholders such as counsellors and parents can have varying expectations and influences on a student’s final university decision, which are things that have the potential to affect whether your university is shortlisted or not.

In order to gain these real-time insights, relying on existing international networks will be key. If you don’t already have one, international school networks are also incredibly useful and act as a window into regional market insights that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.

Students value other students’ opinions and often trust one another more. You may already be using this method, but how can you further utilise alumni and students in marketing strategies to make an impact? 

If you want to learn more about how to build your international brand awareness, check out our latest useful resource that simplifies the process in 6 strategies.

Universities are trying to recruit from larger markets such as India and North America

Loughborough University spoke about how they’re aiming to be more sustainable in their international recruitment, and as a result, will invest more heavily in places with a large international student output such as India or North America.

Whilst this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it can be easy to leave yourself vulnerable to unanticipated geopolitical shifts that could disrupt this market.

So, pairing this investment in countries with a high international student output should also be done in tandem with investing in new, emerging markets.

Investing in a variety of markets also means your student body will be more authentically diverse, which we know international students value when looking at prospective universities. 

Students are not just looking for a place of study, but potentially a new home, and will naturally feel more at ease if they see themselves already reflected within your campus life. 

If you’re looking to begin recruiting from new markets but are concerned about the risks in doing so, there are steps you can take to reduce these risks.

For example, taking a hybrid recruitment approach to new markets can mitigate the financial risks of in-country visits, whilst giving you a chance to explore a new market.

Alternatively, investing in international school networks can be a great way to collect new market insights, build trust within a regional community, and meet best-fit students earlier on in their decision-making journey.

At BridgeU, we have an extensive network of international schools behind us, spanning 140+ countries worldwide. We’re committed to helping you unlock your best-fit international talent. We’ve already helped over 100 universities reach their international recruitment goals. 

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Showcase specific degrees to increase campus diversity

A few UK universities on our panel mentioned that although international student mobility is up, it’s often the case that this diversity is attracted through specific programmes offered. 

James Perrin from Hertfordshire mentioned in particular that a large part of their international student mobility was to their business and STEM degree programmes.

Whilst this can be challenging to navigate, there are a few things to note here. 

Although there is still a high international interest in STEM subjects, international students are increasingly looking to find the best-fit degree programme for them. And, as seen from our data, these best-fit degrees don’t always fit neatly into these subject stereotypes. 

This being said, think back to the STEM degrees your university offer. Are these subjects an integral part of your international recruitment strategies?

Now think about the other subjects you offer outside of STEM; are these also optimised for an international audience to the same degree? 

Ultimately, the responsibility for crafting the narrative of your subject offering to an international audience is yours. So, here are some things to think about when looking to diversify international recruitment to more subjects across your university.


If you want to gain more international student enrolments in other subject areas, it’s important to build this in your international brand awareness strategy.

It’s possible that the reason international students are not applying for other degrees offered is because they haven’t heard of them, they don’t know what the degree entails, or they can’t see the value in it. 


Accept your niche and own it. It is not an inherently bad thing to have a specialist degree programme that attracts an international audience.

For example, whilst the majority of universities in the roundtable agreed that student mobility from Europe was slowing down, Loughborough and the UCA – universities that offer specialist degrees – still had students applying from these regions.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed co-hosting this roundtable discussion. It proved to be a fruitful and interesting conversation, reminding us of the challenges and opportunities for people working in international higher education.

One such opportunity on everyone’s mind was AI, and how this may serve to support the education sector. 

Whilst some UK universities were already engaging with AI through chatbots on their university websites, others were thinking ahead as to how it could come to support students, and universities through the admissions & enrolment process. 

Edtech like BridgeU is another tool that universities can use to meet their international recruitment goals, whilst saving time and resource in the long run.

Using real-time market insights from our extensive international school network, paired with our marketing expertise and growth campaigns, we’ve supported over 100 universities worldwide already. 

If you want to learn more about how we can support your university, book a meeting and chat with us today.

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Learn how BridgeU can help you successfully diversify your international recruitment strategy today.

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