Pathway provider Study Group is the leading supplier of international students to Britain’s higher education sector. International students contribute billions every year to the UK economy, as well as contributing immeasurably in other non-financial ways. However, 2011 saw the international student market come under threat as the UK government made significant changes to the international student visa system.

Study Group approached us with a serious challenge: change the legislative climate and make it clear that international students will always be welcome in the UK. Our education PR team developed a campaign to apply pressure on government to reverse or reduce the visa changes while reassuring current and prospective international students that the UK was a safe and welcoming place to study.

238 pieces of tier one media coverage, including 115 in national outlets

Commentary from Study Group PR mentioned in House of Commons debate

Won two PR awards and was described as an “unqualified success” by PR Week

Recognising that Study Group’s entire business was under threat, we attacked the issue from multiple angles. We launched an issues response programme, including opinion articles and case studies highlighting the importance of international students to the UK economy. We backed these articles with hard data based on Freedom of Information Act requests.

In addition to our outreach in publications, we sought to amplify expert voices on the issue. We gathered comments from university vice-chancellors and organised a well-attended press conference that brought together all of the higher education stakeholders in the industry for the first time in history. This conference presented a united front against the proposed visa changes.

The campaign was, in the words of PR Week, “an unqualified success”. Study Group earned 238 pieces of tier one media coverage, including 115 in national outlets and front-page coverage in the Financial Times. A key politician was spotted carrying one of the articles produced by Study Group into a meeting, and the Home Office issued an official response to the campaign.

The Home Affairs Select Committee dropped the most controversial element of the proposed changes, which involved raising the English language requirement for foreign students.

“The team went to great lengths to understand this very complex issue and ensure that both sides of the story were heard. They made sure we responded with consistent messaging every time the issue was raised in the media…journalists were approaching us for our opinion as we were viewed as thought leaders on the issue. The press conference was timed to perfection.

“The government has put the international education sector under an exceptional amount of strain…representing a major threat to our own business and the UK’s recovering economy. We really felt Definition had Study Group’s, and the sector’s best interests at heart throughout the process and they played a major role in securing the immediate future of the UK’s second biggest export sector.” – James Pitman, Study Group Managing Director, UK and Europe

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