Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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24/7 Recruiting: How to use multiple channels to keep your marketing going around the clock

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The following item is adapted from the 2018 edition of ICEF Insights magazine
  • It explores the impact of planning the recruitment effort across a number of different channels – from agents to education fairs to online and more – and of the increasing need to plan for multiple contacts with prospective students over time
  • The complete issue of ICEF Insights is available to download now

One thing we never hear,” a colleague said recently, “is that recruitment is getting easier.” As we have noted previously, growth in outbound student mobility has slowed over the past several years, and this is happening at the same time as many new players – schools and destinations alike – are vying for international students. The result? Intensified competition and a prospect pool presented with a much greater range of options. The pressure is on for all recruiters to keep their institutions front of mind for prospective students throughout their decision process.

If that sounds like the start of an argument for working even harder or trying to stretch your limited marketing resources even further, it isn’t. But it is a call for more sophisticated and more efficient recruitment marketing, especially because many institutions and schools and agents are already doing it.

Integrating new channels

Think about all the ways you can reach and recruit new students. You can meet them at a student fair, or they can be referred to you by a trusted agent. You can connect through your website or on social media, or perhaps through an active link with a partner school or government organisation abroad. As illustrated in the chart below, there are several distinct channels through which students are recruited every day.


An overview of the different channels through which students are generally recruited.

Most educators can look at this range of channels and quickly realise that they tend to emphasise one or two of these methods. Perhaps your strategy is based on a strong agent network, or maybe you specialise in online marketing.

Just as quickly, you can probably also identify one or two channels in which you have noticed potential and have considered investing more time and effort – school partnerships, for example, or perhaps a distinct alumni programme for your international graduates.

This is where the opportunity arises in terms of greater reach and effectiveness: the chance to incorporate new, complementary channels in a way that enables each to reinforce and build on the other as the student progresses from inquiry to application to admission to registration and, ultimately, to graduation.

Keeping it real

Does a more broadly based, integrated recruitment strategy necessarily place unmanageable demands on your staff and budget? No. It would be as easy to think that building a new alumni programme is too much work, or that you’ll never have time to cultivate and support new institutional partnerships. Best practices are always scalable. Most educators could not quickly ramp up their efforts in each of these channels at once. The key is to carefully choose and integrate a manageable number of recruitment channels, and in a way that is sustainable over time.

For example, maybe it’s not possible for your institution to build a fully featured global alumni programme today. But perhaps you could begin by creating a basic contact database for graduating students, or even organise an annual reception for alumni in a key sending market. If you don’t have time to scout the world for new institutional partnerships, perhaps you could formalise or expand an informal connection with a school that is already in your network.

Always on

The goal is to build a recruitment strategy in which each element is connected to all the others. If you went to an education fair in Brazil, for example, you would be well prepared to refer students to local agents or alumni. You might also have a highly efficient system for collecting leads, following up quickly with interested students, and connecting them with your offline and online networks – including agents, alumni, and social channels.

The ideal is that even when the entire recruitment team has left the office, a student is still being recruited somewhere in the world. This happens when you’ve built great local networks or leveraged your online marketing to the point where a student can be productively engaged throughout their decision-making process.

Through a student’s eyes

To make this all more concrete, let’s consider what the typical decision process looks like for an international student. Study abroad is of course a huge decision for the student and his or her family, and one that usually unfolds over an extended period – most often a year or more.

To borrow a specific example from the enrolment management services company UniQuest, the illustration below maps the experience of an actual Indian student who enrolled for a degree programme in the UK in autumn 2017.

A real-life example of one student’s journey from first contact to enrolment. Source: UniQuest

You’ll notice two things right away. First, there were roughly 15 months between the student’s initial inquiry and her first day on campus. And second, the prospect was extensively and consistently engaged by the university that entire time.

The sheer frequency and duration of follow-up communications illustrated here is what increased competition looks like at the level of an individual student.

We can infer a few things from this example in terms of the university’s recruitment strategy. First, this institution’s systems are highly responsive to inquiries. Along with more personalised follow-ups, the student’s initial contact in June 2016 triggered an automated series of outbound email messages, with topics ranging from basic information about the university’s programmes to details about how to apply and links to virtual campus tours.

Note the automated aspect of this initial response. The student received a carefully structured series of messages over a period of months. This approach is well supported by more sophisticated service providers and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. It can also be accomplished at a basic level with affordable and easy-to-use email applications, such as MailChimp or Campaign Monitor. Also of note here are the tailored one-to-one mails and other communications – an effort that relies both on dedicated staff time and sophisticated lead management systems, in this case underpinned by the UniQuest platform.

The illustration also demonstrates that the initial response to the student was also connected to the university’s attendance at an education fair in her home city. She attended the fair in November 2016, roughly six months after her initial inquiry, and subsequently applied for admission in January 2017.

Finally, it appears that the university was very effective in incorporating other communication channels, including a live chat function on its website and one-to-one messaging via WhatsApp. The variety and frequency of contacts here suggests that these channels are well connected with other outbound communications to prospects, and that the institution can adapt easily to whatever mode of communication works best for the student.

In all respects, this example suggests an institution with a highly integrated recruitment strategy in which each element flows smoothly to the next, in this case from an inquiry mechanism to an outbound email programme to attendance at a student fair and a variety of other communications. It is likely that there is plenty of room in this model to refer the student to a local agent or to connect her to a current student or alumnus.

The result (aside from a successfully recruited student, of course) is a highly responsive, flexible, and efficient effort that moves the prospect from inquiry to enrolment. Each individual part of the strategy is well thought out and thoroughly integrated with all others.

For additional background, please see:

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