A new way of planning international recruitment

No one has the market on predicting accurately where international students will enrol in 2017, but the following trends are likely to have an impact this year.

Growing importance of regional hubs

There are approximately five million students studying abroad today and a recent report from ICEF predicts that there will be eight million students studying abroad by 2025. Where are these students enrolling? Western Europe and the United States have traditionally been the destination for international students. However, this is changing.

Regional hubs, especially in Southeast Asia and in the Middle East, are enrolling a greater share of international students with regional governments working together to create strong economic and political ties to attract students from the region to study there.

Empowered agents

Those institutions using international agents to recruit international students should be prepared to pay a larger commission and offer better scholarships.

Canada increases enrolment

It is likely that Canada will be one of the big winners in the international student enrolment game. The number of international students enrolled in Canadian colleges and universities in 2016 increased by 8% on 2015. Enrolment at Canadian institutions from China increased 11% and from India 28%.

Like Australia, the Canadian government has made it a national policy to create a welcoming environment for international students by streamlining visa and admission processing and easing the citizenship process for international students after graduation.

Fewer students coming from the Middle East

The King Abdullah Scholarship Programme, inaugurated in 2005, allowed thousands of Saudi students to study all over the world. In 2015, significant changes were made, reducing the number of Saudi students travelling abroad to study. Lower oil prices and the fear of restrictive visa processing in the United States is likely to significantly reduce the number of Middle East students enrolling at ‘traditional’ colleges and universities outside of Saudi Arabia.

China draws more international students

China will attract more international students and send fewer to the US. With 33 million Chinese students enrolled in tertiary education, China can boast the largest higher education population in the world. The Chinese government has plans to increase the number of international students studying in China and has implemented a national strategic, geopolitical and economic agenda to influence and dominate international higher education in Asia and throughout the region.

More than 70,000 students from Southeast Asia studied in China last year. The number of Indian and Pakistani students studying for medical degrees in China has tripled over the past decade, for instance.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that 45% of Chinese people view US power and influence as a threat to their country, up from 39% in 2013. International strategic recruiters in the US should take note. Chinese parents may not be so keen to send their children to the US in 2017. Another point to bear in mind is demographics – China’s population of college-age students will decline by 20% by 2020.

So what should universities do in the light of such trends? After all, you don’t want to plan enrolment and budget goals around a certain number of international students from specific countries and then not meet the goals because the international student recruitment landscape has changed.

Diversify strategic international recruiting plans

Despite past enrolments from specific countries, strategic international planners will need to re-write past international strategic plans. International deans planning for future international outreach should look at countries with a rising middle class as well as strong projected growth of gross domestic product. Strategic planners should also take into account the geopolitical and economic changes sweeping across the globe, creating new global economic and political realities.

Review agreements

Current agreements, including articulation and bilateral agreements, international linkages and study abroad programmes, should be reviewed to determine if collaboration is possible with any of the countries with whom institutions already have some partnership. All of the academic and international staff responsible for these agreements should meet and brainstorm about the potential for more robust collaboration.

The Institute of International Education’s Global Perspectives on Strategic International Partnerships provides some good advice.

Innovate to encourage future enrolment

Another idea is to target potential future students including study abroad students through innovative summer programmes that combine academic, for-credit courses with cultural events. These have the potential to become degree-seeking students in the future.

Online enrolment

Although the jury is still out on the value of MOOCs – massive open online courses – there is no doubt that online enrolment, especially for students from India and Africa, is growing, with the statistics changing weekly. Online enrolment should be a part of any international strategic plan.

Partner with other colleges or universities

Heresy? No, the reality is that it may be more beneficial for two universities to offer a combination of courses leading to a degree from both of the institutions. What are your strongest subjects and what are those of a competitor institution or another local college or university?

Use big data and predictive analytics

To create evidence-based international recruitment strategies requires analytical databases that can provide administrators with speedy, actionable information to make smart decisions, re-align and re-allocate staff time, financial resources and prioritise international markets. But it is also vital to ask the right questions and to target both students and their parents.

Questions for students

Before application:
What made you apply and when? Instead of basing future recruitment plans on what happened last year, international recruiters should know what part of their branding proposition prompted prospective applicants to apply and at what point in the application process they decided to apply.

After acceptance and deposit:
Ask accepted and deposited applicants when they decided to accept the offer of admission and what were the deciding factors. What communication did your institution have with accepted and deposited students that contributed to their acceptance of the admission offer?

Prospective applicants and accepted students who did not enrol:
While it is critical for any successful international recruitment plan to know why and when applicants enrolled, so too is it essential to know why prospective students and accepted applicants chose not to enrol. Information from this group of prospective students can shed light on the parts of the branding proposition that are ineffective.

Questions for parents

Most colleges and universities do not have a communication plan for parents from the time of application to deposit. But parents can, and do, weigh in on where their child will enrol. International deans should communicate directly with parents to determine what part of the branding proposition prompted parents to support acceptance of admission.

The value of getting this information in real time allows international strategic plans to be adjusted, not after the recruitment year, but during the active stages of the recruitment year.

The old planning process based on reliance on agents, random attendance at international fairs and the use of international view books are not the elements of successful strategic plans in 2017. The competition is too tough and the moving pieces are moving too fast. The dark alchemy of disruption and unpredictability demand a new way of thinking and planning.

Marguerite J Dennis has been a higher education administrator for more than 40 years, at St John’s University in New York, at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and at Suffolk University in Boston, United States. She is a consultant to colleges and universities in the United States and around the world on higher education administration, enrolment, retention and international programmes and is the author of five books on higher education, college admission and financing and international strategic planning.