Scotland’s universities demonstrate integrity in international recruitment with adoption of the UK Agent Quality Framework

17 of Scotland’s universities and higher education institutions have pledged adoption of the UK Agent Quality Framework, making a strong commitment to integrity and transparency in the use of international agents.

The move seeks to uphold the highest standards in international recruitment and therefore reassure prospective and current students, the public and politicians, where universities’ use of agents is part of overseas activity.

The UK Agent Quality Framework (AQF) was developed in partnership between the British Council, Universities UK International, the British Universities International Liaison Association (BUILA) and the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).

Key measures in the UK Agent Quality Framework are:

  • Ethical practice, with the National Code of Ethical Practice for Agents (2021) made a condition of university contracts with agents.
  • Strong governance measures built into the agent contractual cycle to deliver the highest quality service, including during selection, due diligence, contracting, training, planning and ongoing reviews and contract renewals.
  • Requirement for agents to take a UK credited training programme, such as the British Council UK Agent and Counsellor Certified Training.
  • Increased transparency around the use of sub-agents, with the recommendation that the National Code of Ethical Practice and credited training applies to sub-agents.
  • Greater transparency for and empowerment of student choice, including promotion of guidance on choosing an agent, clear display by universities of their contracted agents and clear signposting of the complaints process.

Responding to the adoption of the AQF, Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland’s International Committee and Principal of Edinburgh Napier University:

“International student recruitment has been under the spotlight of late. Universities will continue to uphold high ethical standards of practice, including in the way we contract with recruiting agents, so that our stakeholders at home and abroad can have total confidence. This confidence matters as much to the student overseas, who is considering the UK as a study destination, as it does to the UK politician making policy here at home.”

“We are very proud to be open to international students. We offer a world-class education, a warm welcome and a genuine interest in learning alongside, and from, other cultures and nationalities. Scotland’s recent International Education Strategy reaffirmed the continued importance of international students as part of our student community.”


The Minister for Higher Education, Graeme Dey MSP said:

“The Scottish Government recognises how vital international students are to the fabric of Scotland’s universities and the important role they play socially, culturally and economically to the country more widely.

“It is also important that higher education institutions keep to the highest of standards when recruiting and welcoming international students to universities – it is therefore encouraging to see Scotland’s higher education institutions adopt the Agent Quality Framework, ensuring these standards are being upheld.

“Sign up to the framework demonstrates our shared commitment to promoting Scotland as a study destination across the globe, which is a priority action within our International Education Strategy.”


Peter Brown, Director of The British Council Scotland, said:

“Agents and counsellors have a critical role to play in the pre-enrolment experience of international students as they make key decisions about their future. The British Council’s training and the Agent Quality Framework can help ensure that prospective students are receiving the best advice, make choices that are right for them, and that Scotland retains its reputation as a world class study destination.”


International students are a key part of Scotland’s higher education sector, educationally, culturally and economically. Over 65,00 students from outwith the EU studied in Scotland at both undergraduate and postgraduate level in 2021/22. Recent analysis found that international students, studying in Scotland, contribute an estimated £4.21bn net economic contribution to the UK (HEPI, 2023).

The adoption of the AQF in Scotland follows statements in early February from Universities UK and institutions that robust action will be taken if and where any practice is found to fall below standards expected of UK universities in international student recruitment.

Universities have strongly refuted any suggestion of unfair admissions criteria for international students. Media stories running this angle had conflated entry requirements to an International Foundation Programme, available to international students, with entry requirements for a UK undergraduate degree.

In February, Universities UK announced two further measures to boost confidence in the sector’s admissions processes and entry qualifications for international students:

  • a review of quality and comparability of International Foundation Programmes (open to international students) and Foundation Programmes (open to home students).
  • An update of the Admissions Code of Practice to clearly state its applicability to international students.

Work on both is ongoing. Scotland’s universities are working closely with Universities UK and UUKi.




The following Scottish universities and higher education institutions have signed up to the Framework:

  • Abertay University
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Heriot Watt University
  • Queen Margaret University
  • Robert Gordon University –
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Stirling
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of the Highlands & islands
  • University of the West of Scotland
  • Royal Conservatoire


  • The Open University in Scotland is not included in the adoption of this statement as its distance learning model means it does not use any agents for recruiting international students and does not use third parties for advice and guidance.
  • Scotland’s universities and higher education institutions join those in Wales & Northern Ireland as UK nations fully signed up to the AQF. Universities UK is working with universities in England to ensure sector-wide adoption.
  • On 2 February, Universities UK announced three measures to offer reassurance that UK universities operate to the highest standards in international recruitment and admissions. Wide adoption of the Agents Quality Framework was one of the three measures. The statement can be found