What’s changing in international student recruitment


As seen during Studyportals Academy 2018

“Change is difficult. We might as well embrace it rather than fight it.“

Embracing change was the theme of Studyportals Academy 2018 – our annual knowledge-sharing conference.


On April 25th and 26th, the Auditorium of the Student Hotel in Amsterdam opened its doors to a boutique audience of industry leaders, professionals, and soon-to-become students to talk about the current state of higher education and the trends shaping its long-term outlook.

The aim of the event was to create the space where a discussion about change could happen, and where higher education professionals are inspired to take a fresh look at the possibilities that are at their fingertips, arming them with new tools and insights to optimise their recruitment practices.

Structured around the three pillars of higher education internationalisation: strategy, digital recruitment, and student mobility, the event focused on adopting the perspective of the newest generation of students, Generation Z: their dreams, expectations, and the way they journey towards finding a matching degree.


“Bring universities where the demand is” – Edwin van Rest, CEO of Studyportals, kicked off this year’s Academy, pointing at the recent megatrends data on emerging student markets.

To set the scene, the opening talk started the audience thinking about new student markets in the context of an ageing population that needs upskilling and reskilling: By 2030, half of today’s jobs will be obsolete, this coming as an effect of automation.

The international student recruitment scene is becoming less traditional and more competitive, especially due to labour market shifts, skills mismatch and digitalisation. How will universities cater to this reality?

Here are the answers we selected from this year’s Studyportals Academy:


The future of higher education will be Modular, Omni-channel and Life-long

Students are becoming increasingly demanding of their degree curriculum. They would like to mix-and-match the courses that best match their career aspirations. Students also show a preference for the opportunity to take courses online.

Organizations, on the other hand, are experiencing the pain of upskilling their staff. One way to bridge the skills gap between universities and corporations is through short, focused, and accessible education. Take, for example, the micromasters offered by edX, or the flexible MOOC degrees on Coursera.

Think about it as a Lego toolbox: the building blocks you have at hand are modular, multipurpose, and stackable, allowing for different outcomes depending on what you want to build.

The Key Takeaways:

# Modular education’s main benefit relies on its flexibility, allowing students to tailor their education according to their needs, thus making the programme offer more attractive.

# An omnichannel education approach fosters more accessibility and reach for educational programmes, having a faster completion rate, being more flexible in terms of schedule and admissions and improving affordability issues.

# Lifelong learning opportunities can facilitate new career paths and upskilling, especially for non-traditional student segments.

Big data can inform much of universities’ “big bets”

Studyportals Academy 2018 highlighted three paramount topics: Strategic decision-making, Digital student recruitment, and Generation Z. The element which binds all three was data. To illustrate how data powers marketing strategies, we borrowed a universally-successful story: Netflix’s House of Cards.

“House of Cards” scores 8.9/10 on IMDB and 89% of the audience’s love on Rotten Tomatoes – a success which was no roll of dice. Turns out, the executive producers knew the series would be a smashing hit before they even started shooting it. The British BBC was already screening a miniseries of the same name, and ratings were promising. Giving David Fincher the director’s seat, and starring a stellar cast only reinforced the predicted triumph of the series globally.

Understanding and applying data is nevertheless difficult. So, what are the most important objectives of a data-driven marketing strategy in the context of higher education?

The Key Takeaways:

# The effective time it takes to establish a new programme in a university is around 3-5 years, hence it’s critical for its success to build momentum for new initiatives now, using real-time data and considering upcoming trends.

# To take full advantage of the possibilities that data can offer for higher education institutions, a shift from historical data sources to real-time data will guarantee better, more accurate and quicker results for universities.

# Use multiple data sources – including the UNESCO public database, national agency data (from, for example, such organisations as Nuffic, HESA, DAAD), potentially economic projections and more to make more informed decisions on a longer-term, strategic level.

Putting students first

Deciding to study abroad is a highly intense experience for students, especially for the newest Generation Z. As emotional needs play an essential role in a person’s decision-making, mapping them and integrating them into what would be a journey mapping can be an immensely valuable asset for any university.

To leverage this intangible pathway, giving students and prospective students a central role in a university’s recruitment is going to improve results and ROI in terms of brand perception and enrolment numbers

When an institution’s branding and approach to communication reflects these subtle emotional cues, it’s easier for universities to connect to students and for students to identify with a university’s set of values.

 The Key takeaways:

# Parents play a significantly important role in the decision-making process of students regarding studying abroad. In most countries from around the world, students take the decision themselves to study abroad; in some countries, like Brazil and in India for example, parents play an important role in the decision-making process.

# Using social proof to positively influence students’ decision-making and preference for your institution improves application and enrolment numbers. Cultural integration is important for Gen Z members when studying on an international campus; specific, university-supported activities regarding internationalization and local integration are appealing for young students.

# Choose the channels that represent your brand the best. Communicate more personally with your students and relevant stakeholders, to foster meaningful relationships that translate into positive brand ambassadorship. Use the available tools on the market and explore their possibilities, like WhatsApp and Google Tag Manager, to improve your overall recruitment efforts.



Mentions in the news

Study-abroad students want more responsive staff – University World News

Parents a key player in offspring studying abroad – University World News

European universities ‘cannibalising’ their own courses – University World News

Are universities listening to international students? – De la Cour Communications

Social media helps students decide where to study abroad – EUPRIO Blog


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