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UK: finance and international offices must “work together” after disconnect

UK: finance and international offices must “work together” after disconnect

One delegate at the WPM Flywire International Student Agents Summit who works in the finance office at a UK university warned that a lack of communication between international and finance office representatives leads to issues such as student funds not going through, and refund delays, and delays in visa processing on applications.

“We’re all in our own little worlds and don’t really talk until there’s a problem – and then there is a problem, so we’re back to square one — it’s a disconnect,” the employee told The PIE.

The first conference brought together members from both arms for the first time, reaffirming the “sense” that more individuals need to “be involved in the international student ecosystem.”

“This meeting almost confirmed some suspicions that more people than just these current siloed working efforts are needed in this ecosystem of international student recruitment, enrolment progression, and retention,” Calum Porter, international recruitment manager for East Asia at the University of Hull, told Dailion.

“These are two very distinct worlds with two very different responsibilities,” he continued, “yet both are completely dependant on each other — one without the other simply won’t operate.”

In addition to Porter, the PIE met with Anita McGarry, who was attending as a financial representative in her capacity as student financial services manager at the University of Hull.

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“We’ve only been working with the foreign office for this year, basically,” she told The PIE, referring to the increase of Nigerian students.

“And we must remember that we must go to the pupils and inform them of our expectations before they arrive.”

Despite the fact that we’ve worked closely with Calum, today is the first time I’ve met him in person. It’s the first step, and it’s critical that everyone understands their bottlenecks so that we can all work together to solve difficulties for the students,” she added.

Sheona Griffiths, WPM’s head of research and marketing, echoed the concerns highlighted in a recent PIE Chat Live with WPM’s director, Holger Bollmann, that an increase in applications is leading to an increase in direct to bank payments, overloading the finance office.

“A lot of the time, the deposits are given directly to the bank, and that individual is coming from a high-risk nation – and then there are a lot of additional checks and compliance duties, and students start phoning asking if the money has been received,” Griffiths explained.

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According to WPM data, 41 percent of India students pay by direct bank transfer, compared to 18 percent of all nationalities — showing a serious challenge in such a large rising source market like India.

“WPM has been focused on our research and understanding it from the perspective of the international payer – but it’s connecting the dots, with what international students were saying in terms of payment issues, and what conversations colleagues were having on the ground in source markets like India,” Griffiths added.

Sharon Butler, EVP of global sales at Flywire, underlined the theme of collaboration — especially, a collaboration between WPM and Flywire following the January merger.

“From a technology standpoint, we’ve found that we can really help bring everybody together and solve these disconnects – that’s how we ended up here, working with the WPM team and how they want to go about digging into some of the findings regarding students’ finance payments,” Butler told delegates.

The principles of agent-institution connections, financial office concerns, the shifting student recruiting landscape, and agent management by financial and foreign offices were all highlighted during the day’s panels and keynotes.

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Mark Lucas of Lucas Education Consulting explained what it takes to be an agent and how they can “assist recruitment” and “walk through” course after course for overseas offices – as well as make the ever-difficult payment issue for finance offices a little bit easier.

Vivienne Stern, the outgoing director of UUKi who will take over as head of UUK in September, reminded delegates of the UK’s crucial position in the international education industry.

“The government’s stance on international university cooperation has shifted… She described it as “a crucial plank in the way the UK exerts influence on the world.”

Bobby Mehta, BUILA’s chair, also mentioned the agent quality framework, which is set to launch “very soon” – and is something to keep an eye on, as Jacqui Jenkins of the British Council stated during the panel discussion that it is a “game-changer” for the industry.

Griffiths told Dailion that the meeting was only the beginning of something good.

“We’ve started exchanging perspectives, understanding each other… everyone wants to work together to do the right thing for the pupils,” she said.

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