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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
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18th Mar 2020

Resetting international recruitment for extraordinary times

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The current disruption in international travel, and in admissions and recruitment cycles, means that international educators will need to adopt new strategies for recruitment this quarter
  • Chief among those will be a greater reliance on digital channels and virtual experiences, flexibility in admissions and programming, and an expanded effort to reach and reassure prospective students planning for study abroad

International educators around the world are rightly focused on supporting current students at the moment. For many, that means helping exchange students return home earlier than planned or assisting visiting students who have been displaced by the cancellation of in-person programmes or by campus or dormitory closures.

To say the least, these are unprecedented times and one where institutions and schools, along with agents and service providers, will all be doing their utmost to assist student and families.

It is also a time of significant adjustment in terms of the annual recruiting cycle and in the ways and means by which educators normally engage with partners and prospective students. Standardised testing has been delayed or suspended in many markets, visa processing operations have been disrupted, and campus services greatly reduced.

At the same time, international travel has become difficult-to-impossible under an increasing number of travel restrictions and flight cancellations and industry events and conferences – to say nothing of student seminars or campus visits – are also being cancelled or postponed.

In the midst of all of this, we can also understand that if we are all operating under a “new normal” at the moment, we can expect that actually normal patterns of student mobility will resume after the pandemic subsides. The question for many recruiters now is how to stay in touch with partners and prospective students during this challenging time.

This is a theme that will figure prominently in our coverage in the weeks ahead, but for now let’s consider some first principles for effective engagement with students and partners abroad.

Be flexible

There is a simple premise at work here in that the institutions and schools that can offer more flexibility to students – in programming, intake dates, and admissions requirements – will be better poised to deal with the uncertainty and disruption in the coming weeks and months.

Many have already moved in this direction by adjusting admissions deadlines and by allowing students to submit alternate test results (for example, accepting alternate online tests in place of standard English proficiency tests that are normally required).

As the pandemic continues, educators may be challenged to offer further flexibility around programme start dates, or perhaps by allowing students who or delayed or unable to travel to begin studies online (or at a partner-institution overseas) and then transition to on-campus learning when circumstances permit.

Be reassuring

The peer-to-peer platform Unibuddy recently reported a 90% increase in platform activity by Chinese students over January and February of this year, and comparable spikes in other markets heavily impacted by the COVID-19 virus.

Their takeaway from this? “Students want reassurance,” says CEO Diego Fanara. “Reassurance that your institution and your country still want to welcome them. Reassurance that they’re able to talk about studying with you.”

This underscores the importance of reaching out, and reassuring, current prospects that your campus and school is still open to them. (And, in keeping with our first point above, extending them whatever flexibility and support you can in the process.) Students need frequent and ongoing contacts in a normal year. But of course this year is anything but and so you should be especially prepared to be in touch early and often leading up to your next intakes through 2020/21.

Be online

As we are all discovering more and more this quarter, there is a tremendous range of platforms and tools that we can use to connect with each other remotely. Fair enough that none of these is a substitute for building relationships face-to-face, but for the time being we should all be prepared to make use of all opportunities to meet students where they are today – and that means meeting them online.

So be prepared to expand your toolbox with respect to online chat and all other digital communications channels, virtual reality, webinars, and virtual campus tours – and with your own website as a natural hub for most of these digital channels.

Be human

Technology is a wonderful thing but international education will never stop being about personal connections and the relationships we build with colleagues and students. So even as you lean more on digital tools this quarter, take care to keep that human element front and centre.

Make it easy for prospective students to connect with peers or alumni if you are able to support those links, and spotlight key staff contacts prominently on your homepage, key landing pages, and in social and email channels.

The news is dizzying today of course. But we will get through this together and by returning again and again to the core elements of international education: connection, community, and a belief in building a better future.

For additional background, please see:

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