Durham Uni ramps up international presence as expenditure on agents increases

The uni aims to make Durham ‘better defined thematically and geographically’

Durham University are ramping up international presence in the city as there expenditure on agents increases significantly.

International students when applying to overseas universities, most notably in the UK where 24 per cent of the student population was reported to be international in 2021/2022, often carry out the application process through various agencies. In turn, universities often pay commission to agencies in return for helping international students with their university applications.

Durham University’s expenditure on such agents has increased significantly in the last seven years, according to a Freedom of Information Request reported by Palatinate: from £1,469,000 in 2015/2016 to £4,852,000 in 2022/2023. This seems reflective of the university’s strategy to “make Durham better defined thematically and geographically”, which has “contributed to an increase in international students of over 40 per cent”, according to Durham University’s most recent annual report.

According to Universities UK, educational agents are said “to play an important part in the student recruitment process” such as through “preparing for English language tests and academic preparatory courses”; aiding internationals with “the application to study and visa applications”; and/or “finding accommodation” and “travel” for the prospective student. Moreover, Universities UK also state that evidence “shows that students who have been supported by an agent are better prepared and are more likely to successfully enrol”.

Nevertheless, rumours of “rogue agents” who partake in unethical practices, such as “the supplying of fake documents” to allow international students to “cheat their way onto a course”, damages the reputation of universities and the higher education system alike, as reported by the BBC. Moreover, these acts lower the value of obtaining a degree and contribute to the ongoing cost of living crisis, which have especially hit Durham University students hard.

To offset the practice of “rogue agents”, the UK Agent Quality Framework Pledge (AQF) by the British Universities’ International Liaison Association (BUILA), of which Durham University is a signatory, provides a standard of conduct for both education agents and universities alike in partnering for international student applications. Moreover, Palatinate reported that representatives of Durham University must pledge to “be honest in their communications with the student” and behave with “integrity and honesty” when determining applications.

Yet, the push towards increased international students could also be seen as a response to the falling numbers of home students being disincentivised due to the cost of living crisis. According to a spokesperson for Durham University telling Palatinate, Home students at Durham currently make up about “68 per cent [of courses] for 2022/23” and Durham making “nearly double the offers through Clearing to home students as to international students”.

However, reliance on overseas fees is said to be unsustainable, where almost 23 per cent of international students come from China, leading to the House of Lords reporting that “geopolitical shifts” could play a factor in affecting student numbers and finance. This has led to more calls by the House of Lords committee to call “on the OfS to hold more regular talks with providers about their financial situation”.

Nevertheless, the 2022 Annual report has acknowledged the “increased financial pressures and challenges” from the “freezing of undergraduate tuition fees for home” which leads to the assumption that universities will inevitably aim to increase international student admission rates to offset the pressure.

The annual report has also pledged to increase the proportion of international students to 39 per cent by 2026/2027, yet there was no mention to increase or arrange accommodation requirements in its operational review. While, there has been evidence of measures being taken to combat the accommodation and cost-of-living crises, such as in building a new 850-bed student accommodation, it remains to be seen what further developments Durham University will have planned.

Related stories recommended by this author:

70 per cent of Durham students don’t feel like they have a healthy work-life balance

Durham sport teams forced to apologise for defining ‘nonce’ as homophobic chant

Durham University UCU staff and students protest on campus in solidarity with Palestine