Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
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19th Sep 2012

Tracking the increasing use of mobile apps in education and recruitment

If I’m a student considering studying abroad, there are a few things that I’m likely thinking about and a lot of this thinking is happening while I’m on my mobile phone – possibly while I’m busy downloading apps onto it. I’m thinking about:

  • Countries and cities, and which ones sound the most interesting and geared to who I am and who I’m hoping to become.
  • My education - what I want to study and what I want out of it when I graduate.
  • The experience I want to have - I want to have fun and meet new friends. I want to learn, not just in the classroom, but from the culture of the place I’ve chosen as a study destination.
  • How nervous I am - I don’t know enough about anything! I have a top three list of institutions I’m considering, but how do I know which one is right for me? Will I have enough money? How do I get my application in, and to whom do I send it? Are my language skills adequate? If they’re not, how can I improve them? What should I pack? How do I even get to the campus once I choose an institution?

To what extent are these considerations reflected in educators' and agents’ mobile strategies? As ICEF Monitor has reported already, the 2012 E-Recruiting Practices Report from Noel-Levitz found that just over half (52%) of prospective students reported they had used a mobile phone or tablet to view a college or university website, but that only 39% of US four-year public universities and 35% of US four-year private colleges have a website optimised for mobile browsing. The business case for incorporating mobile into your recruitment strategy is getting stronger all the time: mobile access is predicted to eclipse desktop access by 2014 (see chart below). If you want to be competitive with the other institutions students are considering, it’s essential to have a solid mobile strategy (luckily, it doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking either from the perspective of budget or time). mobile-eclipse-mobile-users

What does a “solid mobile strategy” mean in relation to recruiting international students?

Beyond the basic necessity of a website’s being attractive and functional on a mobile device, it means being responsive to prospective students’ circumstances, questions, and concerns. It means remembering that they are prospective, not current students; that they live far away, and most likely won’t get to physically visit your campus before they choose where to study; and that they want reassurance that choosing your school is the right move – proof points including a commitment to supporting foreign students socially and academically. For a growing number of institutions, a solid mobile strategy integrates a mobile app, which is not surprising given that students who preferred an app over a mobile website increased by 31% this year, and the percentage of colleges with an app more than doubled from 13% in 2011 to nearly 28% in 2012. Apple’s App Store may achieve a staggering 45 billion downloads this year, and more and more, consumers are expecting their every want and need to have an app at the ready for them. We’re not just gaming on apps anymore – we’re sometimes using apps instead of conducting Internet searches on our mobile phones.

Content remains king

But as in so many other technology areas, an app for app’s sake is not the route of choice. The best educator apps with an eye on student recruitment have considered the unique circumstances of the prospective student. For example, the University of Arizona, the University of Alabama, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have some - if not all - of the following content built into their apps:

  • Interactive maps of the campus and surrounding area
  • Searchable course catalogues
  • Videos including campus tours, student testimonials, and academic programming information
  • Contact information (key university numbers and emails as well as emergency numbers)
  • Info on local restaurants
  • Upcoming events, performances, lectures
  • Transportation information

We also found another university app that is notable for its integration into an overall marketing challenge the institution is working on: how to transform its image among prospective students. A year ago, the University of Illinois at Chicago began work on a gaming app designed to establish a new image leveraging UIC’s fun urban setting and innovative faculty and programmes (both students and faculty were involved in its design). The app is now out: it’s called Hoops of Fire, and it has users sinking virtual basketballs (the university’s big sport) in locales across Chicago.

Non-educator apps offer food for thought and possibly advertising

Below are descriptions of three new apps that offer further content ideas for educators considering how to recruit foreign students through their mobile platforms. Each touches on a hot point for foreign students – respectively, travel planning and organisation, language testing, and course content. While educators consider whether to integrate this content into their own mobile offerings to students, they also have the more immediate option of seeing whether they can advertise on sites like these that will appeal to thousands of the very students they want to recruit. There is also a great article on the Educational Marketing Group’s website called “The Lowdown on In-App Advertising” that offers excellent information on forms such advertising could take, using examples from beyond the education industry. TripBox: Next year (2013) will see the launch of an exciting app catering to foreign students: Brazilian travel agency STB’s TripBox, which helps students plan their trips abroad. From The PIE News: “The app will allow students to keep important personal documents and travel information close at hand on their smart phones or tablets. Users also receive updates from STB about their trip and can post travel tips and share with their friends. Jose Carlos Bauer Santos, managing director of STB, came up with the idea for the app, which is still being trialled with a limited number of STB clients and offices. “Tripbox will be holding information about travel documents, passports, vouchers, airline tickets, destinations, restaurants, hotels, itineraries, maps… everything is going to be in there.” LanguageMAP: Also scheduled for imminent app release is LanguageMAP, an online language test developed by the University of Queensland. The app release is the result of a licensing agreement between UQ's main research commercialisation company, UniQuest, and international student recruitment organisation International Education Services (IES). UniQuest Managing Director David Henderson said the product will be launched in the context of a “US $82.6 billion global language industry, of which digital English language learning products are expected to earn over US $2.5 billion within the next four years.” WizIQ Virtual Classroom: In July, WizIQ, a web-based education platform, announced its WizIQ Virtual Classroom App for the iPad. Using this app, students can attend classes from home, a car, a café, or even the beach if that’s where they are with their iPads, along with a long list of other amazing capabilities. Are you doing something interesting with mobile in your recruitment efforts? Tell us about it in the Comments tab below.

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