Cara Skikne

How UMBC found the right focus countries for student recruitment


Finding the right balance between diversification and focus allows universities to lessen their reliance on a few recruitment countries while expanding the global pool of talent your institution can draw upon. Choosing recruitment focus countries is interrelated with other aspects of diversification such as portfolio diversification (including disciplines and formats, levels and methods) and the diversification of income sources. There are new opportunities to be found by understanding how your offering matches the needs of your prospective students.

Ask the right questions to find the right mix of focus countries:

1. Are there geographical differences in student interest, discipline, level or format that could translate into opportunities?

2. Can you find new opportunities by understanding how your offering matches the needs of different students?

3. What drives decisions in specific markets?

UMBC is a public research university with an academic focus. It has achieved R1 classification – the highest level of research performance. The university has approximately 14k students enrolled in over 100 degrees and is best known for its STEM programmes.We spoke to Adam Julian, Director, International Student and Scholar Services, Center for Global Engagement, at UMBC:

Objectives: “We are looking at how we can utilise the popularity of our STEM fields to make some of our other programmes in different disciplines, such as humanities and social sciences more attractive to international students. Ultimately, we want to bring the world to campus, to globalise and benefit the whole campus.”

Actions: “To diversify, we embarked on a process of using data to identify specific programs at UMBC that have the capacity to grow, and then identifying specific programmes where the focus and the careers that those programmes lead to, tie into the needs of specific markets.

Results: “A good learning experience for us was to see how people are engaging with us, on multiple platforms, and then which students are only engaging with us on Studyportals. For instance, typically, the students who are only engaging with us on Studyportals are the students outside of the Indian Master’s students. To me that’s a little bit of proof of concept that the marketing is working and the targeting is working.”

Insights from The University of Maryland, Baltimore County:

Use data to prioritise

“Data helps us see population trends and see where around the world students are interested in specific academic programs. It allows us to know where to spend our money, where to spend our time, where to put our focus and ultimately see results in a more efficient way. This is not a quick fix, and this might not affect the next intake. It’s a case of building up over time.”

Understand what drives decisions in specific markets

“In some markets, parents are driving decisions. In some markets, it’s really about cost. In some markets it’s about prestige. We’re really cognisant, in our conversations of the key decision drivers in each market.”

Socialise the idea with key university stakeholders

“It’s a really important idea to get through the community -that yes, maybe enrollment is up, but that’s only temporary and presents an opportunity to develop systems and structures that are more sustainable, that will move us away from this risk of being solely reliant on one market that could be one geopolitical or natural disaster away from completely decimating everything.”

Accelerating international student recruitment

This was originally published in Studyportals’ ‘6 ways to accelerate international student recruitment‘ guide – a collection of approaches supported by mini-case studies from universities across the world.

Find out how universities have amplified their impact by:

  • Choosing focus countries – Insights from The University of Maryland, Baltimore Country
  • Optimising programme portfolios- Insights from The University of Bristol
  • Extending access online- Insights from IU International University of Applied Sciences
  • Building a strong ambassador programme – Insights from The University of York
  • Breaking through the digital noise – Insights from The New School
  • Using data strategically – Insights from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

Download the guide here.

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