Targeted student recruitment techniques in Pakistan

Yesterday at the ICEF Dubai Workshop, nearly 400 participants active in student recruitment in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia gathered to network with new and current business partners as well as gain market insight via several educational seminars. One such seminar focused on the Pakistani market, given by Dr Osamah Qureshi, Director of Student Counseling Services (SCS), an agency based in Pakistan.

Dr Qureshi’s session shared tactics on how to recruit high quality students via agents and local institutions. He also pointed out several popular Pakistani cities to focus on, and the latest trends in student preferences. We present the highlights below.

Geographic approach

In Pakistan, there are 136 universities, of which 74 are public and 62 are private. A list of Higher Education Commission accredited universities and colleges can be found online.

As English is the official language of Pakistan, nearly all higher education courses are offered in English. Students from urban areas such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad can typically score at least a 5.5 on an IELTS exam (for example) without much difficulty, whereas students from smaller cities like Gujranwala, Sialkot, and Faisalabad will need more language training and foundation courses.

Students can get dates to sit for exams approximately 10-15 days in advance; wait times can extend up to 4 weeks during peak periods. IELTS is the most popular exam, but others are offered such as TOEFL, Pearson, and Cambridge.

Getting back to a city-led recruitment approach, most educators focus on the three main metropolises: Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. However, Dr Qureshi reminds us to add Hyderabad, Peshawar and Sialkot as well. Those who want to extend their reach even further could try smaller cities such as Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujrat, Mirpur, and Abbottabad.

While students in Karachi and Lahore are attracted to traditional destinations, students in certain cities have demonstrated affinities towards other specific study destinations, such as:

  • Gujrat: EU countries, UK
  • Abbottabad: UK, Australia, Ireland
  • Hyderabad: Malaysia, UK
  • Peshawar: UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland
  • Sialkot: UK, Ireland

Although agents working solely in smaller cities might be less familiar with the nuances of international student recruitment, Dr Qureshi assures us that finding quality agents via word-of-mouth references from current partners or respected government bodies such as the British Council or Austrade is a sound approach. It’s also good practice to collaborate with those agents who have gone through formal training and gained certifications and accreditation with, for example, Education UK, Pier, or ICEF.

Establishing the right links

When establishing links with institutions, Dr Qureshi advises that rather than begin with a formal arrangement, it may be better to start with a loose, non-binding agreement for information sharing, educational exchange and credit transfers. This can then be extended and expanded upon as relationships deepen. Two examples of the most successful partnerships to date include Aptech and the COMSATS-Lancaster Dual Degree Programme.

Dr Qureshi cautions against “falling prey to private institutions who cannot produce results and are merely looking to use your name in their marketing and promotional efforts.”

With regards to agent networks in Pakistan, he advises against garnering a large number of agents; keeping your agent network smaller can enable you to concentrate on gaining the loyalty of selected agents and producing tangible results from those prized partnerships.

New student trends

With the UK recently seeing a 13.4% dip in Pakistani student numbers, other countries are stepping in. Up and coming destinations include New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, Malaysia, South Korea, Turkey and Cyprus.

In Dr Qureshi’s experience, his agency finds that the most popular subjects when studying abroad are business, accounting, finance, hotel management, engineering, IT and English language foundation courses. The least popular subjects are health sciences, art, design, and law.

Most Pakistani students and their families are primarily concerned with a school’s location, pricing, and anticipated living expenses. As this is a price-conscious market, providers offering special packages, scholarships, or discounts ought to promote those heavily.

Pakistanis are also very interested in part-time work options and post-study routes. Dr Qureshi noted that many leading universities are now hosting their own job fairs in Pakistan, which can be a good marketing avenue.

When selecting a school to attend, Pakistani families tend to pay less attention to campus facilities, sports, and institution rankings worldwide.

For additional market insights on Pakistan, please see:



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