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1.   This letter updates the guiding principles for international activity set out by HEFCE in 1999.

2.   In 1999, following criticism of higher education institutions by the Public Accounts Committee, we provided guidance on international activity ('Guiding principles for international activity', HEFCE Circular Letter 8/99). Since that time, institutions' international activities have diversified and grown considerably and, although the principles that we set down continue to apply, there is now much more comprehensive and detailed advice and support for institutions' international activity from other sources, notably the web-sites, newsletters and publications of the International and Europe Units based at Universities UK.

3.   This letter updates the guiding principles set out in Circular letter 8/99 and underlines that the financial management, student recruitment and examination responsibilities in this area of activity rest with institutions themselves. We believe that an effective risk and control framework will enable institutions to continue to operate successfully in the international market.

4.   We have reviewed our guidance at this time because of allegations of irregularities in the use of funds to support international travel. Whether or not these allegations have any foundation, our position on the use of public funds by institutions for international travel is as follows:

  1. International travel should only be funded from public funds where it is relevant to publicly funded activity.
  2. Institutions should have effective internal control over international travel and subsistence and the controls should be considered for review within internal audit plans.
  3. Value for money should be sought from international travel arrangements and the costs of expenses such as business class flights should be weighed against the potential benefits.
  4. The environmental costs of activities such as domestic and international flights should be considered in the context of the institution’s carbon footprint.
  5. Institutions should be alert to the potential reputational damage for themselves and the higher education sector from allegations of waste or impropriety.
  6. Public funding should be used only to fund travel by institutions' employees on official business. The only exception should be where, for marketing or ceremonial reasons and with the express sanction of the chair of the governing body, heads of institutions' spouses or partners are required to attend particular events.

General principles

5.   For any institution with any significant international business, there is a need for:

  • activity to be developed within the institution's risk management, internal control and corporate governance framework, and set in the context of clear objectives expressed within its strategic plan
  • activity to be controlled by clear formal agreements and supported by proper accounting and management information
  • the financial management, student enrolment, registration, fee collection and examination processes used abroad to be as robust as those employed by the institution in England
  • appropriate travel and subsistence arrangements
  • institutions to ensure that neither they nor their agents misrepresent the organisation and the higher education sector
  • arrangements to be regularly reviewed.

6.   This advice is intended to inform institutions' own policies and procedures. It supplements and complements guidance developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (for more information see under About us/Academic Infrastructure/The Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education). The Quality Assurance Agency guidance focuses on academic standards, and is designed to ensure that the high reputation of the courses provided overseas by British higher education institutions is maintained.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive

Date: 23 July 2010

Ref: Circular letter 21/2010