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Field report: Ukrainians consider a wider variety of study destinations

Following his recent trip to Uzbekistan, ICEF’s Director of the CIS countries Mr Sergey Krasnyanskiy travelled to the Ukraine to liaise with educational agencies and learn about current trends among Ukrainians that are affecting attitudes towards international education.

In particular, he learned why Ukrainians are increasingly willing to consider a wider variety of study destinations, and how destination countries and educators can profit from this trend.

Broadening horizons, shrinking opportunities

Ukrainians are increasingly interested in the world beyond their borders.

Young people have become much more comfortable with other countries and cultures; their participation in the 2012 Euro Cup, for example, gave them the opportunity to showcase their heritage and hospitality. At the same time, educated and ambitious young Ukrainians are becoming increasingly concerned about the future of their own country, and many are eager to establish themselves abroad.

A wider section of the population

According to several agents interviewed for this article, the broad sentiments described above have caused interest in study abroad to spread to the lower and middle classes.

Because these groups constitute the largest section of the population, the pool of prospective students has grown substantially, and is expected to grow further in the future. And as more students from lower income brackets consider studying abroad, interest has increased for non-traditional destinations that offer a good balance between cost and quality.

Agents identified several countries that appear to have risen in esteem for this reason, including the Netherlands, Eastern Europe, Singapore, China, and other Asian countries. One agency stated that they had begun advising students to consider UK branch campuses in Malaysia because when compared to studying in the UK, they could earn a UK degree at a fraction of the cost and a higher standard of living. Students are also increasingly attracted to countries in Eastern Europe and Asia because these regions are growing in importance economically.

Post-graduate work, post-secondary demand, and programme choices

As interest in work and life abroad spreads among the population, Ukrainian students are increasingly selecting destinations according to post-graduate work opportunities, mirroring trends observed among international interns, students travelling to Europe, and Lebanese students.

Recruitment agents in the Ukraine report that the UK – previously unchallenged as a destination for Ukrainians – has lost much of its appeal due to the new visa restrictions on work after graduation. Conversely, Canada’s comparatively generous work and settlement scheme for graduates has caused a dramatic rise in applications for this destination. These observations corroborate the findings of the most recent ICEF i-graduate Agent Barometer, which illustrate that Canada’s popularity is rising around the world.

Furthermore, Ukrainian agents also report that the growing interest in post-graduate work opportunities has lead to a corresponding increase in demand for post-secondary study.

In terms of fields of study, post-secondary applicants from the Ukraine appear to favour professional programmes such as business, management, hospitality, and engineering, reflecting their professional motives for studying abroad.

And as post-secondary education in Canada attracts increasing interest, students considering this option are also more willing to complete preparatory education and pathway programmes such as language courses, academic prep programmes, and boarding schools in Canada to bolster their chances of admission.

Visa difficulties and destination attractiveness

Many Ukrainian students will turn to agencies for help with their student visas even if they have an idea of the destinations they would like to travel to; therefore, perceptions of the ease with which a visa can be obtained can have a widespread impact on the number of applications to a particular study destination.

For example, Ukrainian agents linked improvements in the Canadian visa process as one of the reasons for the increase in applications for Canadian institutions. Conversely, some countries reportedly lose applicants because they have gained a reputation for difficult or uncertain visa processes; these countries include the US, Ireland, Malta and Australia – though agents also noted that Australia’s appeal may increase due to the introduction of streamlined visa processing in April 2012.

The fading appeal of familiar destinations

Ironically, the growing appeal of destinations other than the UK may be related to Britain’s historic attractiveness: many agents report that their clients have been travelling to the UK for years. Now, as they approach university age, these students are simply interested in experiencing something different.

Dodging the language barrier, reducing costs

Language learning requires a long term investment of time and money, as many students travel abroad from their early teens to complete preparatory education in summer camps and language schools.

As new segments of the population become interested in study abroad, more and more students are attracted to those destinations that allow them to save time and costs due to linguistic similarities.

For example, many inhabitants of western Ukraine speak a dialect similar to Polish, allowing them to adapt quickly to academic instruction in Poland. The Ukrainian language itself shares some relation to the Czech language; in the experience of the educational agents we spoke to, the average Ukrainian student needs only between 6 to 12 months to become proficient in Czech.

Furthermore, Poland and the Czech Republic allow graduates from Ukrainian high school to enrol in regular academic programmes directly, while other destinations such as Germany require lengthy – and therefore costly – academic preparation programmes.

Lessons for recruitment in the Ukraine

Above, we described some trends in international student recruitment in the Ukraine as observed by Ukrainian agents. So how can educational institutions and other providers respond to these trends and profit from them? In the following section, our agent contacts offer tips on what you can do to open or improve your recruitment activities in the Ukraine.

Local visa offices

Most local Ukrainian agents agreed that those countries that did not maintain visa offices in the Ukraine (i.e., Australia and Malta) were seriously undermining their efforts to recruit students. For these countries, students are usually forced to apply in Moscow – an expensive, time-consuming, and often highly uncertain process, which frequently deters students from applying in the first place.

Recruitment agents have also requested more information on the US and Canadian visa process; because these visas are in high demand, agents would like to gain a better understanding of visa conditions and the types of students that these countries prefer.

Identifying the relevant audience

In the Ukraine, the type of destination and institution that a student is interested in varies widely based on various factors. To market intelligently, countries and educators should first identify those students whose interests fit their profile.

In-country agents observed that the decisions of prospective students appear to be correlated with the region in which these students live: Russians and central Ukrainian students are particularly interested in North America and Western Europe, while western Ukrainian students usually apply to countries in Eastern Europe. Students from the major urban centres tend to exhibit greater flexibility about their choice of destination, while inhabitants of more rural areas favour established destinations.

Identifying country-specific strengths

In order to market themselves efficiently, destination countries and institutions should also consider what aspects of their education systems appeal to Ukrainian students, and target those aspects for promotion. For example:

  • United Kingdom: language and summer camps for children and youths; post-secondary
  • Canada: university prep (such as pathway programmmes, language and boarding schools); post-secondary; post-graduate work opportunities
  • United States: post-secondary, master programmes
  • Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Ireland, Dubai, Singapore, China, Taiwan, and South Korea: post-secondary
  • Netherlands: post-secondary and boarding schools

Promoting scholarships

For educational institutions with comparatively high tuition, Ukrainian agents recommend they draw attention to scholarships that are available to Ukrainian students.

Educational providers can use scholarships to set themselves apart from international as well as domestic competition: when comparing educators at a given destination, Ukrainian students will tend to prefer the school that offers them financial support.

Cooperating with agents

Agents play an important role in international student recruitment in the Ukraine. Many students choose to rely fully on the services of an agent to choose and apply to an institution abroad; many others may complete part of the process themselves, but will turn to agents for help with more demanding aspects of an application, such as visas.

Agents can provide various services to educators to help them recruit Ukrainian students, such as providing institutions with access to clients who have travelled abroad in the past. Many agencies have built their client base over time, sending the same students abroad repeatedly and building trust with the students themselves as well as their communities.

Agencies also appear less concerned about competing with each other than about promoting the idea of study abroad itself as well as the breadth of possible destinations. This focus on promotion and education suggests opportunities for educators to work with a variety of agencies across the country.

Tips for entering the market

As described above, Ukrainian students are increasingly willing to consider a wider range of destinations, making this a favourable time for countries and institutions to enter the market.

For newcomers to the Ukrainian market, agents stress the importance of making a long term commitment. Countries and institutions must be willing to invest time and effort into promotional campaigns, and must be prepared for the possibility of low returns in the early years. However, agents are confident that the investment will pay off in the long run due to widespread interest in international education – both for its own sake, and as a means to work and settle abroad.

As an example of a successful strategy for entering the market, one agency pointed to Australia’s Griffith University.

In contrast to other Australian institutions, Griffith has managed to attract a steady stream of Ukrainian students over the last few years. In large part, Griffith’s success appears to grow out of a consistent, focused marketing campaign run by a branch office in Kiev. Among other promotional activities, this office has arranged for guest lectures by Griffith professors for Ukrainian students – for example, a lecture on academic writing delivered to 170 students at Kyiv National Economic University.

According to Anthony Bradley, Griffith University’s Regional Manager in International Marketing, the lectures are “a great success, with a formal invite being extended for us to return… to deliver similar lectures to pique the interest of potential Australia-bound students for this wonderful country.”

Whether institutions are only just entering the Ukraine, or are looking to strengthen their established position, this country’s population of eager and internationally-minded students presents promising prospects for recruitment and expansion.

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