Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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Year in review: What we learned in 2018

It has been another exciting and challenging year in international education, and, as always, we thank you for reading along with us. But before we turn the page and get ready for 2019, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the things we learned this year.

The landscape is shifting

With global growth flattening out this decade – and with an expanding field of study destinations in pursuit of ambitious growth goals – it is no surprise that competition in international student recruitment became even more intense this year.

This is generally true across the industry, and especially so in language travel where total training volumes have declined over the last five years and where we have seen significant changes in market share among leading ELT destinations.

But the same pattern is playing out more broadly as well. The US is still, by far, the world’s leading study destination and the UK is holding steady in the #2 spot on the global table. But change is afoot and in 2018 we saw other destinations – notably Australia, Canada, China – continuing to gain market share and to challenge those traditional leaders. We can expect more of the same in 2019, in part as some of the major regional hubs work to strengthen their competitive positions in the year head.

Immigration policy is key

We were looking back this week on our most-read articles from 2018, and, as always, a notable proportion were concerned with immigration processes and policies in major study destinations. And no wonder as immigration remains the great policy lever available to all governments with an interest in boosting international student numbers.

Visa processing times, acceptance rates, and costs all feed in to the market’s perception of how easy (or difficult) it is to get a study visa for a given destination. And we continue to see countries making moves this year to improve on their processing, or at least to be transparent in sharing student visa statistics. France and Canada were two notable examples in this respect.

And of course post-study work opportunities remain a key consideration for students planning for studies abroad and this year we saw a number of destinations – including New Zealand and the UAE – announcing new post-study work and residency policies targeted to prospective students.

Political risk is real

There are a number of aspects of risk that are entirely outside the control of international educators, and this year political issues loomed fairly large for many recruiters. The political climate in the US was one high-profile example of this, and one that appears to have had a real influence on the attractiveness of the US to students from Latin America and the Middle East in particular. And of course, Brexit continues to hold the world’s attention as the UK moves toward it’s planned exit from the European Union in March 2019.

We also saw a number of very direct lines drawn between politics and student mobility this year, including in Taiwan where growing political tensions with the Chinese government saw the number of flights (and outbound students) from the mainland drop off sharply. The same was true in Canada where a political spat with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia led to the abrupt recall of thousands of Saudi students from Canadian colleges and universities.

Start with your own website

Online continued to strengthen this year as an ever-more-important recruitment channel. But in the midst of learning the latest strategies for search marketing, online advertising, and social media, we were reminded again and again how important it is for institutions and schools to put their best foot forward on their own websites. Google research tells us that 6 in 10 mobile users will leave a site if they don’t find what they are looking for immediately. A reality that was expressed very clearly by one recent survey respondent who said, “If a lot of the detailed information is missing [on a website], I choose not to apply.”

We weren’t sure this was even possible at this stage, but the importance of providing an excellent experience to mobile users was further reinforced this year as well.

A small prediction

We don’t normally do this but we’ll wrap up this year’s year in review with a small prediction: watch for a growing emphasis on alumni and on building stronger links with graduates in the year ahead. Whether it’s building alumni networks, better engaging with current students to encourage retention, or even promoting paths to residency for graduates – we rather think that all of these areas will receive greater attention from recruiters, educators, and policy makers in 2019.

In any case, we’ll be watching for all the latest developments in international student recruitment all through the new year, and we’re sure that you will too!

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