At the BUILA annual conference last week, much of the discussion centred around using consortia to more effectively and efficiently recruit international students. We heard from the London Universities International Partnership (LUIP) consortium, the Wales International Consortium (WIC), Northern Consortium UK (NCUK), the UK Saudi Interest Group (UKSIG), and the Schools Interest Group (SIG). Each of these is either regional in its membership or has a specific focus, or both.
The benefits of collaborating within a recruitment consortium are clear: a consortium has more impact than an individual institution, it is possible to pool resources and make funds go further, the breadth of recruitment activities is wider when a number of institutions is involved, more people means more perspective and more creative thinking to grow recruitment, consortium members share intelligence, share contacts and share risk.
But the challenges can’t be overlooked. Working with a group of people means many opinions, and a consortium requires management. Some consortia, such as ECUK, work at a grassroots level and rely on volunteers to organize events and take responsibility. Without a clear ‘leader’ or manager, things can quickly descend into disorganization or apathy. Most of the more well-established and ‘professional’ consortia have a paid employee who takes on the role of manager/director or even a secretary who takes on the logistics and details of running the consortium.
Additionally, recruiting students through a recruitment consortium essentially means you are working alongside your competitors, sometimes vying for the same students. When does it stop being collaboration and start becoming competition? Of course, it is the student who will ultimately make the decision of where to study after having looked at several choices, and it is the responsibility of the consortium to present all the choices in the best possible light.
For me, working within a consortium to recruit international students, in certain overseas markets, is worth the extra effort, and the benefits outweigh the potential challenges. It may not be right for every university, particularly those which enjoy a strong international reputation, but it can be an effective option for less well-known institutions.
Update 31/07/2012: I just wanted to add this link to the International Unit’s International Focus newsletter which has a great article about consortia, networks and alliances in international education - http://www.international.ac.uk/media/1682653/International_Focus_82.pdf