Improving the overseas student experience

Jun 29 2021
Business Insights Study abroad

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Since 2017, many popular study destinations for overseas students have seen incoming student numbers decline as mobility trends evolve. The pandemic certainly hasn’t helped. In its wake, there will be intense competition as third-level institutions all over the world look to attract more overseas students for their funding needs. To succeed, colleges and universities must examine ways to improve what they have to offer to international students. Those that do so successfully can reverse the trends in falling overseas student numbers, regain lost ground and even attract more overseas students than before.

Roll out the welcome mat for overseas students

Overseas students need to feel wanted, valued and respected. Colleges must emphasise that this is the case at every touchpoint from engagement and recruitment, right through to graduation and beyond. Publicity campaigns, such as the #WeAreInternational initiative promoting the UK as a welcoming study destination, are a good example of just how important this factor is in attracting students: 84% of respondents said the campaigns got the message across that UK institutions committed to making overseas students feel welcome.

Colleges must address language, cultural needs and local etiquette when marketing overseas. By asking international students already on campus about any issues they had when considering the university, you can create a plan to ensure that the welcome extended to overseas students is genuine and drives their decision-making.

When international students make queries as the result of a campaign, respond quickly and warmly. Calling students directly can personalise and consolidate a relationship early on. On arrival, a surprise welcome pack with essentials, such as a sim card, electricity adapter and a local map can make a great first impression.

Demonstrate clearly that overseas students have a real voice within the university community with their own societies and clubs. However, there also needs to be inter-cultural mixing on campus. Cross-cultural workshops, as used by the University of East London in the UK, can help staff, as well as students, gain a better understanding of cultural perspectives. The Howard Thurman Centre for common ground at Boston University, where overseas students make up a quarter of the student population, is another good example of an initiative designed to promote inclusivity and a global mindset.

After graduation, stay in touch. As alumni, past students can become your greatest ambassadors.

Providing supports that make a difference

Every university understands the importance of having an international student office. Make sure yours is geared as much to supporting students after they have arrived as recruiting them. 

While students should be fully briefed on what to expect before arriving, many will still need support with financial necessities, such as opening a bank account and currency exchange, as well as academic and personal issues due to the cultural differences. Make sure that counsellors are trained to help with these, as well as the emotional issues faced by students as a consequence of moving to another country. Many will have to deal with culture shock, language barriers, homesickness, new ways of studying and, for many, new-found independence having left the family home for the first time. 

Mentoring initiatives, or peer-assisted learning, connecting newcomers with students that have already spent a year or more at the university can help. The Columbia Mentoring Initiative in place at Columbia University in New York, is a good example of how institutions can help new students find their feet and settle in quickly.

We know that many students choose English speaking countries as a study destination in order to improve their business English skills. Providing English proficiency classes, along with tutoring in technical language used in course materials, ideally before students arrive, gives students confidence in knowing that their academic progress shouldn’t be stunted by language barriers. 

Student needs and expectations can change from year to year. Keep up-to-date on what overseas students want through social media, focus groups and surveys. That way, you can be seen to be actively committed to the welfare of overseas students and continue to update the services you offer in line with their changing needs.

Offer value for money

A major concern for students is value for money. According to a survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute, 34% feel they receive poor value for money. They want to see a return on their investment, and for most, that means a career on graduation.

A World Education Survey found that 75% of students expressed an interest in participating in work training options after graduation to get experience that could help with job prospects. Additionally, 74% even said that high graduate employment ratings would be worth higher fees. Overseas tuition fees are a big expense and anything universities can do to provide a stepping stone for students into their career choice will be seen as offering value for money.

Universities that integrate jobs for college students, such as summer internships, part-time work on campus or develop partnerships with potential employers can highlight these benefits in recruitment campaigns. 

Another way of offering value for money is through an accelerated, two-year degree instead of the standard three-year programme. However, care should be taken when developing, and pricing, these study programmes as they typically require more teaching hours per year. 

Making a commitment to improving the quality of the overseas student experience will inevitably lead to greater student satisfaction and enhance the reputation of your institution. Education providers that make the welfare of overseas students central to the college’s ongoing strategy will see the benefit in the effectiveness of future overseas recruitment campaigns.




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