The British Universities International Liaison Association, coordinates regional interest groups focused on key geographical recruitment markets around the world. It also chairs an elected committee of representatives from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

There is however, an absence of formal regional groups in England despite the size of the higher education sector.

In the East Midlands, a region that includes nine different universities within a small geographical area, local recruitment teams have decided to launch their own working group called the East Midlands International Leadership Group.

Speaking to The PIE, Will Burns, representing Loughborough University, explained the motivation for starting the new group, saying “as a region we have worked collaboratively on opportunities and challenges over many years”.

“With the last few years being exceptionally turbulent, we all felt the need to have a regional forum has never been more pressing,” he added.

International office staff from six universities have already agreed to participate in the new group with office directors being supportive of the initiative.

“Many of the attendees, both institutions and staff, were self-selecting in the first instance,” continued Burns. “Many of us have worked as a group of regional institutions for many years and know each other well.

“The hope is that each member will bring their own expectations of what makes this group so useful. From Loughborough’s perspective creating a space to routinely share opportunities and challenges as well as the pooling of insights to inform strategic direction are the main motivators for forming the group.”

This element of trust is a key motivator for professionals in the field, as they seek to share knowledge and navigate application trends without fear of misdirection or private sector sales pitches.

Simon Terrington, founder of EdCo LATAM, told The PIE he has participated in a number of organic leadership ‘meet-ups’ since returning to live in the UK last year.

“With so many people working at home there is an appetite just to spend time in the same space as others in the sector for the day. This is commonplace when we are on the road together, so why not in the UK?” explained Terrington.

“Many of us have worked for universities and/or private sector partners over the years, so it makes little difference [who attends from where]. This is more about catching-up and helping each other understand the bigger picture.”

In the North East of England, five universities have created a new collaborative development conference designed to explore ways of working together around the theme of ‘place’.

George Hunt, director of international development at Teesside University, said, “As you would imagine the current climate has made universities more competitive but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important regional universities still work together.

“Scottish and Welsh universities do this well, as do London universities via London Higher, so it is vital that regional universities subscribe to the view that a rising tide floats all boats.”

Private sector companies including agents, pathway providers, insight consultancies and admissions specialists have been ahead of the curve in formulating official advisory groups over the last few years.

These groups are often populated with policy makers, higher education professionals and senior academics.

Perhaps the most powerful is the UK advisory board for global agent aggregator ApplyBoard which features several prominent figures in UK policy-making including Lord Jo Johnson, Sir Steve Smith, Nick Hillman and Mary Curnock Cook.

It is not clear if these specific positions are remunerated but a clear advantage of an advisory position is gaining knowledge and insights that may not be publicly available.

Positioning as thought-leaders and championing good work is also a strong incentive, such as with Studyportals’s board of UK, European, North American and Australasian experts.

Mark Ovens, business unit director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Studyportals, explained the importance of an advisory panel and facilitating leadership events, saying, “Put simply, we believe in the value of cross sector collaboration.

“We aim our events at a wide variety of stakeholders and include both partners and non-partners. In the UK, we are part of a historically resilient international HE sector, but [in the face of challenges] it has become even more important to work together to remain competitive.

“By creating an open forum… we can broaden our perspectives and networks”

“By creating an open forum to discuss creative solutions to the issues of the future, we can broaden our perspectives and networks from our own individual or institutional perspective. With this in mind, our advisory board is made up of a range of expert contributors who have invaluable experience in the industry.”

In the UK, The PIE Live conferences have also experienced rapid growth as key leadership events in Europe, APAC-Australia and North America in recent years.

Feedback has highlighted the value the international education community places on networking and debate that complement the formal association events that happen each year.

Rachel Donnellan, events director at The PIE said, “The PIE Live conferences have been an unprecedented success. Our net promoter score has been really high and we are expecting an even bigger audience at the London event taking place this March as leaders come together to discuss the big issues.”

The PIE Live Europe takes place between 19-20 March 2024 at The Brewery, London. It is a two-day leadership conference that welcomes leaders from across the international education sector. 


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