At the heart of any overseas student recruitment campaign is information. This is what you’ll use to develop insights you can align with institutional priorities and goals to create a campaign that attracts overseas students to your university. Every education institution is different in terms of objectives and what they offer international students, but the success of any campaign will depend on understanding the factors affecting overseas student mobility and then delivering on what students want.
What international students want
You already have records of overseas student demographics attending your institution and a good knowledge of the reasons students choose to study with you. But before developing an overseas recruitment campaign, it’s vital to review that data in line with developments at the university and overseas student trends.
The best place to start is with the overseas students that are with you right now. Surveying them will give you more in-depth insights regarding their decision-making, what they like about the university, and what you could be doing better. Use a questionnaire or focus group to discover their needs, concerns and interests, as well as gain an understanding of how their needs are changing. From this information you can create detailed personas and use these to create solutions to their pain points that you can showcase in your marketing campaign.
Time to SWOT up
With these findings, you can also develop strength, weakness, opportunity, threat (SWOT) analysis. This is an in-depth examination focusing on internal factors that support or block international student recruitment. A good example of a positive factor could be a particular study programme that is popular with overseas students. Alternatively, you may be able to identify a missing support that could be a barrier to attracting more international students, such as difficulties sourcing accommodation, or visa requirements.
You will also see how partnerships with schools overseas or alumni groups are benefiting recruitment, in which case you can start looking at ways of strengthening them further. Integrating technology into learning has become a big driver for overseas students, so keeping abreast of new digital learning tools that could impact student numbers is vital.
Blocking factors may include pricing (where the cost of tuition fees for popular courses is a barrier for students from certain regions) or low brand recognition. Likewise, look for data pointing to emerging markets where you can focus marketing efforts for better results.
All of this analysis can help you fine-tune your strategy and plan a highly targeted campaign.
One size won't fit all
The development of student personas is an increasingly important part of creating a focused student recruitment strategy. This market segmentation technique involves creating detailed profiles of students, based on their background and motivations for studying overseas. Again, surveying current students and alumni can help you build these profiles, but your admissions and recruitment team should also provide valuable insights. Start by assessing students based on location, age, gender and financial means, then create surveys to find out what attracted them to your college.
Examine key touchpoints in the decision-making process where you can engage students and conduct market research to see what impacts decision-making. Discuss your personas with any external agents, or overseas partners, for further sights.
Take account of external factors, such as economic or political developments that may influence student mobility, when creating these personas. If the registry department is aware of a reduction in applications from a certain region, delve deeper to see why this might be happening. Use Google Analytics reports for insights to reveal where your traffic is coming from. This can be helpful in identifying opportunities in new markets.
Once you’ve built up a picture of student prospects, you’re better equipped to target them. You can then customise campaigns and personalise content for improved outcomes.
Bringing it all together
Use every data source - When developing your campaign, involve all stakeholders, including representatives from faculties, admission, students services and the career office. They all have something to contribute.
Historical insights - Look at strategies from previous years and how successful they have been. What can you learn and what can you build upon?
Think ahead - Make sure you integrate institutional objectives for the coming year into your plan, especially if you are focusing on new courses, study formats or geographical targets.
Internal changes - Implement changes to internal processes and services before rolling out your campaign. These can be highlighted in your marketing as improvements designed to incentivise overseas applications.
Outreach - Review your current relationships overseas and any faculty/research work abroad and how they affect your success in certain markets. At the same time, look at where you can build new relationships.
As your campaign takes shape, identify the most effective marketing channels. Use those most relevant to the geographical market, from advertising and email to open days and webinars.
Don’t limit your marketing to students. Target career offices and those responsible for helping students find the right third-level education options. If you provide the right information, they’ll pass it on for you. You may even be able to build relationships for disseminating marketing materials, or organising an open day or online event for answering student questions.
Website - Make sure your website is user-friendly and accessible on mobile phones and other devices. Create content tailored to engage overseas students, along with useful links and resources where they can find more information that can help with decision-making. Direct students to strategic pages such as application portals and contact forms - ensure effective user journeys and clean, attractive user interfaces
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) - The web has become the number one resource for students researching higher education options. Understanding what overseas students type into search engines when looking for a university is vital when creating marketing content. Integrating a sound SEO strategy into your campaign can be a huge help with search engine rankings and brand awareness.
Social media - More than 80% of international students now research on social media before making a direct enquiry at a university. Make sure you use the most popular social channels in your targeted destinations and your social media profiles have content created specifically to engage overseas students.
Vlogs - Audiovisual content has proven to be very effective when it comes to engaging overseas students. With over 16,000 views, this is a good example of using vlog content to attract overseas students from the University of Nottingham. Virtual tours of the university, the campus and faculty resources can help you showcase what you have to offer. Including video testimonials from current overseas students can reinforce the benefits of choosing your institution.
Get the message out
Once your plan is in place, announce and promote your programme through university channels, especially those targeting overseas students groups. These students will then do some of the work for you, spreading the message back home. Inform partners abroad and publicise in overseas media outlets to prepare the ground for rolling out your campaign. Zai can help you keep your FX costs to a minimum when paying for advertising and marketing efforts overseas.
Timing is important. Begin developing your campaign at least a year ahead of the next academic year, while making sure it takes account of institutional objectives in later years.
Finally, stay on top of student trends by subscribing to relevant news sites. There are a number of good sources out there updated regularly, such as the Institute of International Education (IIE) Open Doors report and the Council of Graduate Schools’ annual application, admission and enrollment surveys.