Key points:
  • Hybrid international student marketing and recruitment is here to stay
  • Competition for students is on the rise
  • Review your growth strategy before moving forward
  • Understand the needs of your partner agents
  • Delivering a great customer experience to agent partners is crucial for success

The international student recruitment landscape has changed — and there’s no turning back. It’s no secret that the pandemic has disrupted schools across the globe in a multitude of ways. It has been nearly two years since they could welcome prospective families on campus, travel to education fairs, or visit education agent partners. All of this activity has taken place online.

It’s been quite the adjustment for education agents who have needed to adopt a new way of working. An industry built on face-to-face marketing and strong personal relationships has transformed into a digital Zoom-a-thon. It’s hard to see the long-term impact of these changes on international marketing and recruitment, but I can confidently say that a new hybrid of online and in-person recruitment is here to stay.

We’ve lost many knowledgeable and experienced K12 practitioners who’ve needed to find new careers outside of international education, creating a scary and very real ‘brain drain.’ Losing this knowledge is a concern for recovery because there is no established formal education pathway to learn international education —  it’s generally ‘on the job’ experience which delivers the knowledge and skills required to grow and thrive in our unique and fast-changing industry.

Anyway, enough of the retrospective doom and gloom; we have much to look forward to with new and exciting challenges and opportunities ahead. Whether you’ve been building your school’s international student vertical for the past 25 years or are just beginning, staying up to date with the latest industry trends is important. I’ll dive into a few key points I’ve been keeping a close eye on below.

Top 4 international student trends

1. Online learning is opening doors

We’ve all seen and experienced the rapid shift into delivering education online over the past two years. The good news is that it has opened up a brand-new market for education providers (and agents) and created exciting new opportunities for aspiring international students who can’t afford to study outside of their home country.

2. Competition for students is rising 

Students now have a vast number of options, either to study in their home country with an international school who offers an English-first curriculum, or to complete their final year of schooling in a pathway program, often delivered online and in-person, that grants direct entry into some of the world's top universities.

3. Digital platforms and marketplaces are rising in popularity

Expedia or Airbnb-like platforms make it easy for students and families to find education providers all over the world. Education agents also benefit significantly from greater access to schools and universities, and simplified enrolment management through one platform. Would your agents work with many different systems when they can now work with one, and regrow more effectively?

4. focusing on the Customer Experience (CX)

A crucial step for any successful business is defining your unique selling proposition.  Unfortunately, we’re often focused on marketing and selling the tangible elements and benefits of a particular product or service and we forget about everything else. We forget about how potential customers feel when they engage with us and ultimately we forget that some of the most essential parts of any sales process exist outside of the product or service value itself.

Extraordinary marketers, salespeople and customer service staff all share one thing in common — they’re fantastic at building rapport with people they’ve never met before. Let’s face it, we all feel more comfortable and positive being around people who take an interest and share something in common. It makes for a more enjoyable and memorable experience.

Customer experience is all about how you make a potential customer or partner feel when they engage with you. Providing a world-class customer experience will make you more attractive than your competition. It’ll increase your admissions conversion rates, grow word of mouth and alumni advocacy, and it’ll boost your international student business.

How does this relate to my school?

When it comes to choosing the right school for international study, parents and carers are increasingly relying on in-country representatives for support, guidance and advice on what is a very complex and long decision-making journey.

Given that agent partners will play an important role in our sector’s recovery, we should view them as our customers (instead of partners), and explore how we can enhance their experience to create better enrolment growth outcomes for all. The best place to start is by reviewing your education agency partnership strategy, and asking yourself and your agencies some key questions 

Understanding agent needs

  • Are all of my existing agent partners still in business? 
  • Have those in business been forced to downsize operations? 
  • What has been the impact on their ability to market my school to prospective students and families?
  • How will this impact me over the coming months and years?
  • What are the current needs of my partners?
  • How can I be a better partner and improve the experience for my agents? (Remember that many other schools are also desperate for students from the same partner!)

Take the time to have these conversations with all of your agencies. Understanding the current state, problems and opportunities before designing your growth strategy is a must. This also serves as the perfect opportunity to build stronger relationships and provide a unique experience for your agents that will help you to stand out from the competition. 

Next, you can start working on updating your strategy!

Formulating your growth strategy

  • What is our student recruitment target over the next 12 months?
  • How many of our existing agent partners are likely to enrol students? How close does this get me to my target?
  • Do we need to grow my agent partner portfolio? If so, what markets will I focus on and how will I find new agents?
  • Is it a more effective use of my resources to focus on supporting a smaller group of existing agents in a few markets, or continue to focus on roll diversification alongside many new and existing agents all over the world?
  • What can we do online from afar versus in-market and in-person to be most effective? How can we leverage online workshops, platforms and marketplaces to connect with new agents at scale?
  • How can I best incentivise my agent partners to deliver? Remember that these can be both financial and non-financial. If you’re looking to incentivise on price, remember that customers have long memories — make sure any discounting is relevant to the environment and time-bound.
  • What additional resources will I need to deliver on the strategy to achieve my target - people, money, tools? 

Once you’ve revamped your agent partner strategy you can form individual plans in collaboration with each of your education agent partners. Here are some important things to remember to ensure your agent engagement is of a high quality so that you continue to stand out from the crowd. 

Partner. Build meaningful, long term relationships. Ensure that you have suitable contracts in place which protect both parties. Treat agents as if they are employees within your own business. 

Plan. Work collaboratively to understand your partner's expectations and needs, co-create targets and align incentives. 

Engage. Train and educate your partner meaningfully about what makes your school special. Make it easy and digestible. After all, if they don’t know about your school, they certainly can’t sell it.

Respond. When a partner contacts you, respond quickly! Within 24 hours is always the goal. Partners are busy managing the expectations of families, so quick communication is key.

Support. How can you support them to promote your brand and increase your reach? Think about co-designing marketing packages that support mutual growth.

Streamline. Don’t forget about the paperwork. It’s challenging and time-consuming to manage school marketing materials and admissions paperwork. Your partners need (and now expect) online platforms which make their lives easier.

Review. Complete an annual review with each partner to discuss what went well, what didn’t and what you will do differently next year. 

Celebrate. Too often, we move on to the next thing and forget to stop and celebrate the wins — remember to make them count!

Final thoughts

Plenty is changing for education providers, agents and families, and ultimately it’s all leading to an opening up of the industry through digital transformation and innovative new business models. For K12 schools, this means there’s more opportunity to grow your reach quickly, but it also means more competition for potential customers.

At Enroller, we give progressive K12 schools the tools they need to grow their global reach and agent network, manage partner performance, and streamline the international student admissions process. We also help create a seamless enrolment experience and save time on compliance and administration. 

The existing agent community (over 1700, spread across 37 countries) enjoys the efficiency of having school marketing material and student applications all in one platform. Learn more about what the Digistorm Funnel + Enroller integration can do for your school’s international recruitment strategy with a free, no-pressure demo

Published 23 March 2022