Cara Skikne

Choosing source countries for international student recruitment


Although there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for diversification, there are some actionable steps for choosing student recruitment countries for diversification.

  1. Clarify your diversification objectives

Recruitment strategies across institutions will differ depending on what their diversification objectives are. Mitigating financial risks is a major driver for diversification initiatives, but there many other reasons that are as equally substantial. Diego Fanara, CEO of Unibuddy says that a university’s best-fit students don’t only exist in the regions they most frequently recruit from: “When institutions prioritise diversification in their recruitment efforts, they build stronger, more talented communities”.

  1. Understand the dynamics of your institution

Understand the dynamics of the recruitment and conversions process at your institution.  It is also helpful to access the obstacles to diversification in the current recruitment process.

It is not enough to be on the radar of different international students. The whole recruitment and application process should be geared towards getting students enroled.

“As students on average apply to 4-5 universities, as a rule of thumb, the conversion from application to enrolment should be about 20%.”, says Thijs van Vugt, Director Analytics and Consulting, Studyportals.

  1. Understand the wider landscape

It is important to understand your institution’s recruitment in the context of the wider Higher Education landscape and your competitors

Choosing focus countries is also not a once-off process.  In order to take full advantage of emerging trends, universities must stay up to date with global shifts in student interest.

“A diverse classroom mitigates risk, but more importantly, it drives education quality and prepares students for a global world. Diversification is a cornerstone of international higher education, so being informed of the latest trends in student interest across the world gives universities an advantage,” says Edwin van Rest, CEO of Studyportals.

  1. Identify opportunities across the different dimensions of diversification

Geographic differences in student interest, discipline, level or format could translate into opportunities.  The different dimensions of diversification include geographic and demographic diversification, product diversification, marketing diversification, financial diversification and academic diversification

Amongst other dimensions of diversification, academic diversification has been in the spotlight more recently as HE institutions are being called upon to deviate from the traditional pathways they have always offered and provide more flexible choices to students. “Flexible delivery of degree qualifications is not well established” says Tim Rogers, Vice-President Enrolment at The American University of Paris. He adds that universities should investigate the opportunities of delivering courses almost as though they were micro-credentials or smaller certificate programmes as a means of either testing demand or as marketing visibility tools.

Brad Farnsworth, Principal at Fox Hollow Advisory, echoes this view and says that the future is with hybrid models: “I really think it comes down to commitment and whether you’re willing to adapt your current models. If you’re interested in diversification and you’re talking about moving into other countries I think inevitably these different modes of instruction should be part of that conversation”.

  1. Take steps to understand the features of the markets you would like to explore

Find resources that can be used to understand the characteristics, behaviours and concerns of different markets.

Countries vary greatly when it comes to student interests and which recruitment strategies work. “Keeping that in mind in your communication is incredibly critical because it allows you to save energy and resources in recruiting those students,” says Carmen Neghina, Senior Marketing Analytics at Studyportals. She adds: “If you know what is important to them, why do they want to go study abroad, why do they want to choose an institution like mine. All these factors add up in the end in terms of saving resources”. 

  1. Articulate your offering in a way that appeals to these markets

Once you understand the students you are targeting, you can take steps to make sure your messages to them are relevant.  Using an international student persona canvas can help you to craft student personas as the first step towards personalized communication.  You can also create a student journey map to track student touchpoints, goals and pain-points.

David DiMaria, Senior International Officer & Associate Vice Provost for International Education at University of Maryland Baltimore County discusses the recent expansion for the STEM list for OPT in the US as an example of how universities can apply country-specific data when recruiting. He says, “”I would be pushing that information out to those countries that have identified specific STEM type fields and have indicated a strong concern related to careers”.

  1. Understand how to compare international students

Recruiting students from different countries means understanding how a student’s context may affect their application. It is impossible to gain an in-depth understanding of every aspect of every country. Understanding the kinds of aspects affected by context is a good starting point.

Make sure you try not to judge students based on their literacy around the admissions process. This should not be a metric in accessing ability, as students have been exposed to different contexts and information.

Evaluating the fit and credentials of international students is one of the challenges that comes with managing the complexity of diversification. David DiMaria says that oftentimes, universities focus more on more diverse applicants, and not on ensuring more diverse students enrol. He adds: “[For example] we don’t think about if we have a requirement for a standardised test, can students in a given country even access the testing centre or do they have to leave their country entirely just to take this test that may or may not predict whether or not they’re going to succeed once they enrol in the institution”.

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