Trends, insights and research to inform growth and innovation strategies in international higher education.

March 31, 2013

International student recruitment research: Responding to a changing enviornment

Robert Diamond wrote that “[s]ignificant change will never occur in any institution until the forces for change are greater in combination than the forces preserving the status quo. And in colleges and universities, the forces for resisting change are extremely powerful”.

The landscape of international student recruitment is changing at a fast pace and achieving recruitment goals will require adapting to this change. In general, institutional strategies and practices for recruiting international students have not kept pace with the external changes in markets, students, and channels.

In this blog post, I am sharing three recent research pieces on international student recruitment published by WES, NAFSA and AIEA highlighting a changing environment and need for proactive and informed institutional strategies.
This research report compares the undergraduate level international student mobility trends and offers a framework of responsive recruitment strategies. The premise of the study is the there are many external and uncontrollable factors influencing international student mobility and hence institutions need to develop responsive strategies which can help them adapt to an uncertain environment. This is especially important in the context that international undergraduate students are younger, need more support services, are well-funded and well-networked on social media as compared traditional profile of graduate students who expected financial-aid and were highly self-directed.
The core argument of the piece is that current growth of international student enrollment is primarily driven by demand from source countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, instead of a result of proactive outreach and engagement by institutions. However, future-ready institutions need to recognize the risk associated with overdependence on limited source countries as it would adversely affect the makeup of the international student body on campuses. At the same time, international student recruitment is a time and resource intensive endeavor. Hence, HEIs need to prepare themselves for a changing context of international student recruitment which requires informed strategies of systematically identifying and cultivating emerging markets. (Based on previous research report "Beyond More of the Same: The Top Four Emerging Markets for International Student Recruitment" published by WES, co-authored with Yoko Kono).
This report highlights that "social media is one of the biggest changes in terms of communication styles and engagement with prospective students." Social media offers immense potential and relevance to deliver cost-effective results in recruiting international students. "Social media offers at least four unique advantages on the dimensions of relevance, speed, cost and personalization, which makes it highly relevant to resource efficiency in the context of international higher education." The report, "deconstructs the complexity of social media, highlights changes in communication patterns of prospective students, and proposes models of engagement to encourage institutions of higher education to prioritize social media as an integral component of their international student recruitment strategies.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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March 23, 2013

Foreign universities in India - A reality check, again!

"A revolution is brewing in the higher education sector with foreign universities waiting for India to open its doors to them.", says The Telegraph in August 2009 and Inside Higher Ed echoed the optimism and prospects of finding "a passage to India" for foreign universities.

More than three years later sentiments have reversed with pessimism and frustration overtaking optimism. The Chronicle of Higher Education sums up with a headline "For U.S. colleges in India, great possibilities, thwarted hopes" and Times Higher Ed finds "As India plays hard to get, overseas suitors lose interest." University World News reports challenges at Leeds MET India, one of the "first" foreign campuses in India, which decided to not wait for the approval of the foreign universities bill.

Several big names like Duke Fuqua, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have all scaled down their ambitions from full-fledged degree campuses to smaller partnerships.

What happened? A case of misplaced optimism.

In March 2010, I blogged --"Foreign Universities in India: A Reality Check" and argued that there is a huge mismatch between understanding of what Indian policymakers believe foreign universities want and what foreign universities want to do in India.

I offered a broad schema to highlight that that there are three segments of foreign universities interested in coming to India with different needs and objectives: 1) Prestige-enhancing (top-50 research universities): 2) Prestige-seeking (next-tier of 100 universities): 3) Revenue/profit maximizing.

Policymakers were interested in attracting top global universities without understanding that there is no need or interest among this segment to build branch campuses or offer degree programs, unless they are funded or financially supported by the host country (e.g. NYU in Abu Dhabi).

At the same time, foreign universities bill proposed upfront barriers like requirement of corpus fund of $10 million and non-repatriation of surplus, which pretty much eliminated all leading universities, especially publically funded ones, which cannot justify with their stakeholders to put an upfront money with no hope of recovery.

Given no financial support from government and at the same time, high financial barriers to start-up, the only way resources could be pulled together was through corporate funding or philanthropy. However, corporate funding means potential for ramping up number, growth and potentially "profit-orientation" and culture of philanthropy is weak in India.

The "for-profit" institutions were proposed to be not allowed to operate in India as the foreign education provider has to be established as a non-profit organization. This is ironical, as many private "non-profit" institutions are cooking books with clear goals of profit maximization.

And of course, the complexity, inertia and confusion of politics and policy-making in India did not help either.

So, what works?

My core recommendation to foreign institutions to "incubate" the partnerships and not to think about grandiose plans of branch campuses. Indian higher education is rich with opportunities but rife with challenges and hence it is important to start now, howsoever small an engagement it is. Higher education institutions need to take calculated risk and "start-up" mentality of working with several institutional partnerships of varying intensity and resources and ramp them up over time. Of course, knowing complexities, context and challenges of working with India is a sure ingredient for success and the other is patience!

I am also co-presenting a webinar entitled "India – The Next Frontier" hosted by American Council on Education.

Related resources:

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
(c) DrEducation.com. Author's permission required to republish.
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March 12, 2013

Decline in doctoral student enrollment in the US

US universities seems to be absorbing lesser number of international students at the doctoral level. The proportion of doctoral student enrollment has declined from 20% in 2006/07 to 17.3% in 2011/12 (IIE Open Doors). However, total doctoral enrollment grew from 108,033 to 117,564, in the same period.

The decline in proportion of international students at the doctoral level does not necessarily indicate the lack in interest of international students to apply or the US institutions to attract international students, however, it is more of an indicator of the effect of the economy, which made availability of financial assistance for doctoral programs tougher. Of course, related reason is faster growth of enrollment at bachelor's degree level primarily driven by China (proportion of international students at bachelor's degree level grew from 29.2% to 36% between 2006/07 and 2011/12).

At the same time, growth in total enrollment at the doctoral level, perhaps reflects the longer graduation time students were taking due to lack of availability of jobs in the market. In December 2010, The Economist published "The disposable academic" and argued that "doing a PhD is often a waste of time." The Nature asked "What is a PhD really worth?" and argued that doctorates to find careers outside academia and "Few academic programmes fully appreciate the true potential that PhD training can confer, or the breadth and depth of value that someone with a PhD can contribute to the world at large; universities often believe that academia is still the most valuable calling for their graduates."

For many doctoral international students, who typically enroll in STEM fields, value of PhD is well-established, however, the bigger constraint for them is availability of doctoral programs with funding opportunities. The pipeline is not expected to see any major reversion in next few years as the availability of fully-funded doctoral programs will limited. With continued expansion of higher education systems in countries like China and India, demand for doctoral programs will continue to increased resulting in doctoral programs becoming even more competitive.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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