Successful international student recruitment is a major on-going challenge for higher education institutions. There is an ever increasing competition for qualified, motivated students with the capacity to pay international tuition fees. The USA, Britain, Canada and Australia are largely competing for the same students. Additionally, there are new players on the scene from other English-speaking countries such as Ireland and New Zealand and “international student hubs” in Singapore and the UAE. For institutions seeking to internationalize their campuses and boost their revenues it is becoming more difficult to compete in an environment of increasing competition and decreasing budgets for marketing.
Improving the efficiency and integrity of the recruitment process is the key to success, according to EduCo’s Senior Vice President Marketing, Adam Roberts. Roberts believes that a process of identifying qualifying prospective students earlier in the recruitment cycle is the “clutch point”. This enables resources to be allocated to those most likely to enroll, and thus ensure that recruitment efforts can be optimised.
He urges institutions to become more competitive, prompt and efficient in processing student applications for admission. By becoming more prompt and efficient in processing applications, institutions can not only meet their targets but get first-choice at attracting students that meet their profile, says Roberts, an industry veteran of twenty years in the sector.
Roberts recalls when he first started out. “In the old days international education was like a funnel – from enquiry to graduation – a straightforward numbers game of conversion ratios. Students just kept coming and graduates tumbled out of at the bottom. Strategic planning was largely limited to the positioning of the funnel; it was based on which markets to target.”
Nowadays, the international student recruitment landscape is in a constant state of flux. It is influenced by a range of external factors beyond the control of higher education institutions. These include factors such as demographics, economic conditions, the expansion of higher education systems in source countries; immigration policies and regulatory environments of competing host countries, and government-backed scholarship programs.
Institutions also face additional challenges in prioritizing and optimizing their recruitment efforts due to an increasing complexity of recruitment practices with the emergence of controversial channels such as commissioned agents as well as the changing communication and decision-making process of prospective students using new channels such as social media.
As the WES review of international student mobility trends in 2013 reported, “Today’s growth in international enrollment in the U.S. is driven by younger, financially and technologically empowered students at the undergraduate level” (Choudaha, 2013).
The review points out that the emerging segment of well-funded international undergraduate students presents institutions with a major opportunity to meet their recruitment targets. However, as Choudaha points out that, this may also present some recruitment challenges, namely to recruit culturally diverse student cohorts that enable the institution to achieve the broader goals of internationalization and the ability to enhance academic and cultural experiences on campuses.
Given that international student recruitment processes are genuinely international, and that they offer students global destination choices, it has become imperative for institutions to become more proactive. However, insufficient understanding of global student mobility trends and recruitment practices can be detrimental to their future strategic internationalization efforts. As the WES piece shows there are advantages to be had from partnerships with third parties that offer scale and reach
EduCo has a dedicated team of 70 staff based in seventeen source markets around the world with the highest concentration in the Asia-Pacific region. It offers a fully integrated ‘end-to-end’ service to support students and institutions from the point of application through to graduation. It works closely with its partner schools to make sure there is a clear and consistent understanding of the student profile sought by the institution. Last year the EduCo international student recruitment team generated over 5,000 international student program commencements.
“We ‘augment’ and accelerate the existing student international recruitment and internationalisation efforts of institutions that we partner with”, said Roberts. “There is no set model: we tailor our relationship to meet the expectations and requirements of our partner, we work together so that we can both be successful”, he added.
Examples of working together include in-country recruiting tours, pre-screening applicants to ensure documents are in order, preparation of marketing materials in the source country’s language, monitoring of commissioned agents, and embedding staff on campus to work under the direction of the school.
The pre-screening of applicants to ensure the veracity of academic records and financial capacity are particular strengths that ensure only genuine potential students are forwarded to the institution for evaluation. EduCo’s locally engaged staff know to verify financial records with financial institutions in the country of origin. This can avoid the trap of a student showing funds by borrowing money to have in their bank account for one day to prove financial capacity. This checking of the ‘source of funds’ is very hard for an overseas based institution to do.
Also the background checks such as looking at study records and work history, checking for gaps, and checking the authenticity of academic records can also be undertaken by our staff.
“But at no times do our staff make decisions about whether the student can enter the institution, that is entirely up to the school”, said Roberts, “we are there to assist and support schools in their processes”.
Roberts is convinced that by prompt and efficient processing of student applications for admission that the institution can recruit the student profile they want and meet their targets.
There is no magic formula for achieving sustainable international student recruitment growth, especially in an increasingly competitive globalized environment. There are way too many variables outside the control of institutions. Each recruitment strategy has its own merits as well as challenges, and yield varying measures of success. However, by implementing a strategy based on third-party partnerships that operate with collaboration and integrity there is the potential for institutions to make their international student recruitment more responsive and productive.