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Universities spend £120m a year in commission to recruitment agents

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Figures suggest that institutions are handing agents around £1,000 in commission for every overseas student as part of a plan to boost international admissions.

Under current rules, students from outside the European Union can be charged far higher fees than their British counterparts and have long been seen as a hugely lucrative market for the higher education sector.

The latest study by two companies – Uni-Pay, which collects and processes fee payments, and Centurus, an admissions and agent management firm – said that international students were an important source of income for universities.

According to research, most universities hand agents an estimated 10 per cent of the total annual tuition fee paid by each student recruited onto courses.

In 2011/12, 302,680 students were recruited from outside the EU, collectively paying £3.2 billion in higher education fees. The average fee stood at £10,738.

Researchers estimated that 38 per cent of these students were recruited through agents, suggesting that total commission may be equal to £120m. This is in addition to some £34m a year spent on international bank transaction fees.

Data shows that universities successfully recruit an average of 19 per cent of international students who make an initial course enquiry, but the rate drops to seven per cent at some institutions.

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