International students

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, international student mobility was on the up. 

5.6 million students were engaged in international education at the start of 2020, and the OECD predicted the number of international students would surpass 8 million by 2025

Then Covid-19 hit and lockdowns that followed prevented many new students from crossing international borders. Some institutions and programs fared better than others. 

According to research by IIE, “short‐term exchange student enrolment numbers decreased markedly”, while enrollments for whole degree programs remained more stable.

Now, with travel restrictions easing and vaccines becoming more available, an increasing number of students are ready to re-engage with international study.

If you work in higher education, now’s the perfect time to revisit your international student recruitment marketing strategy in order to take advantage of pent-up demand.

We suggest adopting the following effective and resource-efficient approaches:

  • Fostering a global culture
  • Promoting your location
  • Providing flexible study options
  • Embracing work placements 
  • Creating a supportive environment 
  • Optimising your website
  • Exploring PPC campaigns
  • Leveraging email
  • Going virtual on campus
  • Harnessing video content

Let’s take a closer look at each.

1. Foster a global culture 

Internationalization should be part of your institution’s overarching strategy. Think about the bigger picture: do you see student mobility as being part of your future success? 

If so, how are you communicating this to the public?

Forging strategic partnerships with international organizations, such as study abroad programs, can help you boost your institution’s global brand. 

In the UK, for example, the University of Leeds is a founding member of the Worldwide Universities Network. WUN is a conglomerate of 23 universities around the world that collaborate on research, postgraduate degree programs, and professional development. 

Why not also take inspiration from the institutions succeeding at international recruitment?

The University of Hong Kong is the most international university in the world, according to recent THE World University Rankings data. 43% of its 18,000 students are international. Clearly, its original plan to become “Asia’s Global University” has paid off!

2. Promote the location

When it comes to attracting international students, promoting your location is just as important as shouting about your programs and faculty and career opportunities. 

Some of your international students won’t have the opportunity to visit before they enroll, so it’s important to give them a sense of what to expect in terms of culture and customs. 

Students at the University of Kent have the opportunity to partake in Masters and Research degrees at The Brussels School of International Studies (BSIS). 

Kent has dedicated a whole website section to BSIS, which provides prospective students with information on how to relocate to the city, the cost of living, history, and heritage, and—importantly—what they can expect to eat and drink.

Don’t forget to showcase parts of your campus on TikTok, like Johns Hopkins University School of Arts & Sciences has done here:

3. Provide flexible options

One key way to attract more international students is to offer flexible learning options. Online courses enable students to study remotely from wherever they are, while flexible timetables allow them to work in employment more easily while they study. 

Georgia Tech is one institution that’s leading the way in flexible learning. It launched its Online Master of Science in Computer Science back in 2013. Fast forward to 2018 and 29.8% of its students were international, with 99 countries represented.

4. Embrace work placements

Incentivize international students to choose your institution by offering high-quality work placement opportunities. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland has 11,000 students enrolled, of which 62% are international. 

Students have lots of opportunities to engage with foreign exchange programs, and students enrolled at other universities can also partake in an internship scheme that involves spending up to three months at one of its campus laboratories. 

5. Create a supportive environment

Don’t leave international students out of your well-being plan. At such an uncertain and destabilizing time, students want to know their chosen university is going to look out for their general wellbeing as well as their academic success.  

Ghent University has a dedicated wellbeing hub on its website that signposts students to resources inside and out of the university. Riga Technical University offers psychological support to international students, who can arrange a consultation with a psychologist. 

6. Optimise your website

To stand out against the competition, you need to optimize your website for different markets and languages. There are a few different ways to add international sections to your website. 

You can use a top-level folder on your existing website, a subdomain for different languages, or create new micro-sites for different regions. Each method has its own pros and cons. The one you choose will ultimately depend on the needs of your institution. 

7. Explore PPC campaigns

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising can be a cost-effective way to get your college in front of more prospective international (and domestic) students. It can also provide you with an insight into which keywords and messaging convert well and which don’t. 

Focus on the markets that you want to target and those that have potential. Remember: you’ll have to consider different languages and cultures when creating copy for different regions and choose appropriate keywords for each. 

8. Leverage email

Email workflows are an effective way to engage with students. They are easy to personalize and automation makes them convenient for busy admissions and marketing teams. 

Email workflows help you manage large amounts of inquiries. You can trigger responses based on the action the prospective student takes, for instance, you can send them a prospectus when they submit an initial inquiry, or invite them to a campus event. 

Customization is key. You can fine-tune your email workflows so applicants receive the most relevant and up-to-date correspondence from your institution. 

Entering a prospect into a workflow that provides them with quality content also increases your chances of engaging with them in a way that prompts them to apply and enroll.

We’ve written extensively on how to leverage email for higher education, including advice on how to segment, avoid spam folders and optimize content for mobile devices. 

A quality CRM for higher education will provide you with the tools you need to communicate with students throughout their journey with you, using email, SMS, Whatsapp, and phone. 

9. Go virtual 

Your higher education institution needs a virtual tour. Virtual tours enable would-be students to see what life is like on your campus and what facilities are available. Providing virtual alternatives is also a way to make your offering more inclusive. 

After all, not all students have the time or funds to be able to travel to your physical campus for an open day or interview. Having a virtual tour will also help you stand out online. Do your research. There are lots of 360° software solutions out there today to choose from.

Check out University of Sydney’s virtual tour, which makes use of time-lapse footage and dialog delivered by students.

10. Harness video

The coronavirus pandemic has catalyzed people’s already insatiable appetite for video content. According to Social Media Week research, 78% of people watch videos online every week, and 55% stream videos on a daily basis.

Statistics aside, video is a perfect medium for helping international students become acquainted with your campus, faculty, programs and students. It allows you to communicate your brand in an engaging, authentic way. 

In this video, the University of Sheffield’s #WeAreInternational team spoke to students and academics from across the world about their experiences studying and working in the UK:

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