Cara Skikne conducted a series of interviews with professionals in the higher education space to find some fresh ideas to take international student recruitment to the next level.
For institutions already excelling in international student recruitment, the challenge is not to fill seats; the challenge is to recruit the right students – a large and diverse set of quality students perfectly matched to their institution.
The market is increasingly saturated with competitors, and it can seem difficult to ensure that you are maximising your international student recruitment strategy using the same tried and tested tactics.
1. Choose the right focus countries
Institutions tend to focus on the regions they know will serve as effective recruiting grounds. Diversifying source countries for recruitment, however, can widen the pool of talent to recruit from, as well as adding diversification of perspectives to the classroom and also mitigating against risk.
Choosing recruitment focus countries is interrelated with other aspects of diversification, such as portfolio diversification (including disciplines and formats, levels and methods) and the diversification of income sources. There are new opportunities to be found by understanding how your offering matches the needs of new groups of prospective students.
Data can help institutions prioritise focus countries, and better understand the needs of different markets.
“Data helps us see population trends and see where around the world students are interested in specific academic programmes. It allows us to know where to spend our money, where to spend our time, where to put our focus and ultimately see results in a more efficient way.” – Adam Julian, Director, International Student and Scholar Services, Center for Global Engagement, UMBC
2. Optimise your programme portfolio
Institutions should stay responsive to the needs and interests of students. Launching new programmes, or even renaming existing ones can do this, when tapping into new markets for students. It is important to look at how different keywords affect popularity and student demand for different subjects.
Ideally, institutions should have a systematic approach to accessing and launching new programmes, that involves key stakeholders.
“In the last few years our programme development work has moved with current global interests to keep our portfolio innovative. In this time, we saw the launch of programmes like the MA in Black Humanities, MSc in Climate Change Science and Policy, MSc Health Economics and Health Policy Analysis, MSc Medical Statistics and Health Data Science, MSc Global Development and Environment, MSc Society, Politics and Climate Change, MSc International Business and Strategy: Global Challenges. And so on…” – Ralph Buiser, International Market Insight Manager at the University of Bristol
3. Extend access online
Online and hybrid models can offer the flexibility and affordability necessary to contribute to the democratisation of education, and to offer more options for non-traditional students. In a digital age, we need to reimagine the student experience and support it with technology.
“You have various means to get to the content and to absorb the content as a student. There’s active support through technology. They have synchronous, as well as asynchronous elements. They can go into discussion boards, take exams 24/7 and start courses any day of the year. And if their studies are interrupted our app will break down the information that they already know in smaller chunks and help them to get back into the topic.” – Prof. Dr. Florian Hummel Prorector international, IU
4. Build a student ambassador programme
Having a student ambassador programme is now becoming the norm for higher education institutions. Having these types of programmes will not only increase prospective student engagement and enrolment rates but can also facilitate authentic conversations between prospective students and your institution. Students may be nervous of asking university staff questions regarding certain topics and what they can expect from their upcoming education experience. Incorporating student ambassadors will also provide more opportunities for students to interact early on and consistently with the institution, throughout their student journey.
“In any recruitment strategy, this should be one of the top priorities. I would say it is worth the effort, against other traditional recruitment methods. Students today want authenticity. The benefits are huge.” – Layla Williamson, International Operations Manager for International Recruitment, Partnerships and Mobility at The University of York
5. Break through the digital noise
Universities are competing with institutions around the world for the attention of students. With so many institutions competing for students’ attention, it is important that you break through the noise and make yourself heard.
To do this, research into your prospective audience is imperative. This can provide insights which can help you connect with your students and understand what they are looking for in a programme and what is important to them. Once you have a better understanding of what your audience is looking for, you are in a better position to speak to them about your institution and what you can provide.
Ensure that you have a clear understanding of your institution’s values and offers that make you stand out from the crowd. This is the starting point to developing creative outcomes that bring your brand differentiation to life.
“It starts with a fundamental understanding of your institution – what your audiences perceive of you and what you want to be known for. It’s extremely important to show what makes our approach to each discipline unique. We infuse sustainability and social justice into our education. So, at our design school, it’s not just learning about making pretty things. It’s thinking about how objects we create, affect the world.” – Layla Williamson, the University of York’s International Operations Manager for International Recruitment, Partnerships and Mobility
6. Use data strategically
Data can help universities make evidence-based decisions, spot opportunities and test hypotheses. From using data to spot trends, to measuring the effectiveness of your recruitment efforts, data can help to target the right students more effectively. This can help institutions make the most of limited marketing budgets.
“Data provided us with a high-level roadmap to take things further and test our ideas. And then it was about critical thinking. I think the dashboards did provide the data we needed, but it also gave us questions that we needed to go off and look at. You don’t know what you’re looking for necessarily – you are looking for gaps, you’re looking for saturation, you’re looking for supply and demand.” – Brandon Kirby, Director of Marketing, Sales and Admissions, RSM, Erasmus University
Every institution is different – with different contexts, regions, level of maturity and institution type. These strategies can have varying applicability depending on these factors. Hopefully something here can spark ideas for adding more tools to your recruitment toolkit and taking your international student recruitment to the next level.
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