International candidates are valuable assets to any institution, encouraging diversity and making the learning experience richer for all. Students from overseas are also a critical source of funding for universities and have a significant impact on the wider economy.
International student recruitment was a hot topic even before the pandemic. A 2017 study by Campus Technology suggests a 5% decline in enrolment numbers could cause US universities to lose out on $250M worth of student fees and tuition costs in one year.
Many universities are struggling to compete as they once did and many are unsure of how to maximise their digital marketing strategy. But before we delve into some practical solutions, let’s take a look at how the pandemic has affected international admissions.
Impact of coronavirus on international admissions
It’s safe to say that any challenges around international recruitment have been compounded by the pandemic. UK universities will be hit by a £2.6 billion shortfall in the next academic year as a result of coronavirus, according to analysis by London Economics for the University and College Union, with the majority of the loss coming from a reduction in international student recruitment.
According to the report, there will be an estimated 47 per cent decrease in international student enrolment in the 2020/21 academic year due to coronavirus. This shortfall will cost the higher education sector somewhere in the region of £1.5 billion.
The fall in domestic student recruitment (expected to fall by 16 per cent) will result in an approximate loss of £612 million. A further £350 will be lost from a drop in European Union student recruitment which is estimated to fall by 47 per cent.
With so much at stake, being as prepared as one can be in the midst of a pandemic is key. Developing a new action plan to mitigate the impact of the virus now and in the short-term as the “new normal” comes into play should be a primary focus.
Here are three potential starting points.
In April 2020, six higher education professionals took to FULL FABRIC’s virtual stage to talk about how their institutions are coping with the impact of COVID-19. Some participants spoke about how they’re thinking of new ways to build community in a dispersed way.
Stephanie Villemagne, Associate Dean MiM and MiF at IE Business School explained how her institution has international offices around the world and that they plan to build communities at a local level until students can travel to their main campus in the capital.
If an in-person event has been cancelled or postponed, think about how you can use technology to host it online. Campus tours can be conducted via video or and simple information sessions can be facilitated on platforms like Zoom.
Online events can work wonders for international and domestic student engagement.
StudyPerth - International Student Meals Initiative
Another way to pique the interest of international students is to show how your institution and city is responding to the pandemic. StudyPerth has partnered with Western Australia food ambassador, Don Hancey and chef, Sophie Budd to create the International Student Meals Program. The initiative’s goal is to provide meals to international students who have been affected by the pandemic.
Some students may have put a halt on any international enquiries they were making and are instead turning their attention closer to home. To keep the international cohort engaged, it’s critical to optimise lines of communication.
Be transparent and share what information you do currently have. Is your institution still open to international students? How are you adapting your admissions processes and arrangements as a result of Covid-19? Will you be delivering learning online?
John Hopkins Carey Business School in the US has a page dedicated to coronavirus updates, including information specifically for international candidates.
“At this time, we are planning on an in-person fall semester and will move quickly to provide updates as they happen. We are making plans for a safe re-opening that will include appropriate social distancing and other measures advised by our public health experts at Johns Hopkins and required by our governmental authorities.” - 16.6.20
We’re spending more time online than ever before, which is why it’s so important to embrace digital marketing. Boosting your institution’s digital engagement will not only help you navigate the pandemic but stand you in good stead for the future when competing for the attention of digital native Gen Zs and Generation Alphas.
You could consider moving some of your marketing budget to increase online efforts and invest in promoting new programmes or the ones that rely on international admissions most (as well as those that are delivered online and offer the most flexibility. Of course, ramping up activity on social media is also recommended.
LSE's Twitter post:
Having access to a modern CRM for higher education can definitely help you improve your international admissions efforts. You can use it to create a branded admissions portal that optimises the admissions process for each student through personalisation.
For instance, you can use your CRM to publish a landing page and track the number of views and form submissions in real-time, seeing what converts and gaining valuable insights about your international prospects’ interests and behaviour.