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Ever since the pandemic, the international student recruitment landscape has changed dramatically, with many schools being forced to limit or entirely close down their international recruitment activities. Now that we’re on the road to recovery, it’s a great time to reevaluate the international recruitment landscape so we can adapt moving forward. We recently hosted a webinar for our Australasian market with some leading experts on international student recruitment, but many of the tips shared by our featured experts are relevant for the US as well. Below you’ll find a summary of their thoughts.
Michael Barry from Enroller has a keen eye on the international market. We sat down with him, and he explained that with so much change occurring in the international student market, it’s important for schools, education agencies, and tech providers like Digistorm and Enroller to pay attention. One of the most prominent changes has been increased competition amongst agents and students. Australasian markets have been closed for so long, with Australia and New Zealand being two major ones. However, our competitors overseas, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have been open for longer, and therefore have had that first-mover advantage in terms of attracting those students that couldn't come down to Australia or New Zealand. It’s important to take this into account, as Australian and New Zealand schools reopen and engage with our traditional international student markets.
There’s also been significant changes in the agent landscape. Because of the pandemic, people have largely been working remotely, which caused the total number of campus visits conducted by families to significantly decrease. Whereas before, the process would have involved face-to-face consulting for families to help them find a great match for their children; the expectations and drives of families have really changed, and along with it the business and operations models of education agencies.
Total number of staff members has naturally dropped, with fewer councillors and international admissions officers needed. Education agencies have also changed as a result, with a boost in acquisition activities. Larger and medium sized education agencies have been acquiring smaller education agencies who may have struggled during the pandemic, and consolidating that market. So some of those smaller agencies that schools worked closely with before may not exist at all today or may not exist in the same way. The growth of the online enrollment journey is impossible to ignore, with information so much more accessible these days for students, families, and agents. This is a core driver behind changing expectations from families, and the industry adapting by using technology as a result.
We’re also seeing a rise in peer to peer recruitment, where families don’t only have to speak to education agencies, but can access platforms to speak to other families who have been through that same journey in the past. This is opening up access to information straight from the source, and direct communication between families has become more powerful. There are many digital platforms and channels that families and agents can visit to access information about great schools around the world, so their expectations are changing as to where they can access that information, how they can view it, and what exactly they view. Michael Barry, Co-founder and CEO of Enroller, states that:
“We’ve definitely seen a significant uptick in the use of our software products for enrollment purposes. Increases in application volume, offer volume, and enrolment volume are now taking place.”
Staff are also starting to come back to work full-time for international recruitment again, whereas in the recent past they’ve been spending half their time on international recruitment and the other half teaching or playing another role within the school.
Customer experience, also known as CX, is your customer’s holistic perception of their experience with your business or brand. CX is the result of every interaction a customer has with you and your business. When it comes to the education industry, partner experience is perhaps a better term, because a lot more goes into relationships between service providers, education agents, and families than other industries.
What we’re seeing not just in international education but in other industries globally is technology as a driver for access to high-quality information. When it comes to a family searching for an international school, they’ll look for more information than they would for a domestic school. Not only will they search for what they can study, but they’ll also want more information on the surrounding area to determine its attractiveness for them.
Families are increasingly expecting real time information at their fingertips, but schools need to also focus on providing the right information and the right amount of information for the family’s specific stage in the admissions journey. Information also needs to be available in the relevant digital and social channels, so families have the best chance of accessing them.
Picking the right platforms and ensuring you’re accessible is key, as is personalizing your communication. A personalized experience needs to be apparent early in the admissions process to create a feeling of trust and connection. It all comes down to speed - how quickly you can respond to that enquiry in a value-adding way, how quickly you can get that offer out the door after the application’s arrived. This is challenging for schools at the moment because they don’t have the same number of staff or budget as before, and expectations (from parents), and competition are greater.
We see the same in the domestic market, with 3 out of 4 marketing teams reporting a massive increase in communication expectations from parents on a wide variety of topics they’ve not seen before; including such topics as mental health and special care. From a marketing perspective, you have to make sure your content is up-to-date and consistent across all channels to build trust and meet the expectations of these families.
Ultimately, partner experience isn’t about what you’re selling, but how we approach selling itself. Families, on their journey to international enrollment, are relying on education agencies more than ever in an unsettled world. This makes agent channels more important than ever, and we need to look at how agents are interacted with and how relationships are built with them.
It’s important to treat these agencies like partners, making sure you give them the time of day and focus on building a meaningful, long-term relationship with key agencies. Aim for quality instead of quantity, and remember to plan and share your expectations with your agents, making sure your incentives are aligned. It’s helpful to brainstorm some ways you can improve the relationship and experience for your agents. For example, to improve your training process for agents learning your product, you can create some helpful video content. Focus on building trust, and remember to sit down and work out what’s going right and wrong with your partnership. And always remember to reply quickly to any communication.
From a school’s perspective, much has changed for future families and agents, and what they’re looking for in a school. Families used to place a greater emphasis on ranking and reputation, and while these factors still remain important, support and care are now higher on the priority list. Mike Bos, Director of International at Moreton Bay College, states that:
“The pandemic has highlighted that the antipodean countries have really cared for and catered to the health and support of residents. I think this has been noticed and it is now time to capitalise on this.”
Schools need to evaluate their approach to marketing communication strategy when it comes to attracting international students. It’s a good idea to have a mix of traditional and new strategies to adapt to the current landscape. By combining traditional channels of communication (that have been and remain effective) with new strategies of more personalized marketing, and integration with industry partners like Enroller, will enable a greater and more focused reach.
Understanding your USPs for international students is crucial, and there are a few things that schools who need to relook at their USPs can do. At the end of the day all schools are offering very similar education experiences, so you need to identify what it is that makes you really stand out, and focus on those things in particular. Start internally by surveying staff and students about their thoughts on the school’s USPs. After that, get in touch with the wider community (including past international students) for their thoughts, and then identify some USPs to focus on with messaging that is clear, regular, and supported by evidence to back it up. When it came to Moreton Bay College, Mr Bos shared that:
“A simple USP early in our journey was our small but well-supported international cohort. It was easy to show the small number of international students compared to our overall cohort size. From this, we could generate buzz around the 'newness' and ‘true Australian experience’. Also, the level and amount of support was easy to show with the number of staff for the cohort size.”
Using your school website as a marketing tool is ultimately going to depend on what your USPs are. You can highlight these USPs through the actual content on your website, and your exact copywriting. With just a few words on your homepage you can display your USPs in a powerful way, and let families quickly know what your school is all about. Images and video are also hugely important, and have largely become the standard and most trusted method. If you land on a website, the video and imagery content needs to be high-quality and up-to-standard when compared with rival schools.
If you have USPs which are more specific (such as academic results, X amount of land, or state of the art facilities), iconography can be really effective for users who like to skim and don’t want to read a block of copy. Iconography gives you that snapshot of ‘this is who we are’ without having to go too deep and ask too much of your audience.
Your website really is your school’s top marketing tool, so it’s crucial that relevant information that users will be looking for can be found easily. This will go a long way towards creating a positive customer experience and driving enrollments, which is the aim of the game. Amy Waddell, one of Digistorm’s Senior Digital Designers, states that:
“It’s all about clearly knowing your target audience and what they’ll be looking for, and how their expectations will differ for domestic and international schools. Layout, content, and structural changes of the website will be driven by expectations.”
For example, if you have a homepage devoted to one particular audience, such as a specific nationality of students, then you can tailor everything on the page towards your intended audience, from your images to your copy. If the amount of content keeps growing and you are struggling to organize it all, you can consider a microsite, which could be useful for your international student hub on your main website.
When it comes to targeting international markets, your USPs can be a lot broader. For example, you can highlight the local benefits of your school by city or even country. If your school is near the beach, there’s no harm in selling the local attractions. After all, students will be searching for schools which can offer greater all round quality of life. If you’re moving to a new country, it helps with the anxiety if there are plenty of benefits to look forward to.
With all the changes to the international student recruitment landscape, it can be a bit intimidating finding the right way forward. However, schools have already started to make strides towards a better future, and by following the right advice and methods you’re sure to thrive in the post-pandemic world and drive your enrollment growth.