Which are the Emerging Markets for International Student Recruitment?

World Education Services released a report entitled “Beyond More of the Same: The Top Four Emerging Markets for International Student Recruitment” co-authored by me and Yoko Kono. Here is the highlight of the report published in University World News.

International student recruitment has become increasingly competitive as institutional budgets continue to shrink. More than ever, higher education institutions are expected to recruit quality students in a short period of time.

Most institutions rely on traditional source countries to achieve this goal, as penetrating an existing market for enrolment growth is a less costly route in terms of effort, expenditure and time.

As a result, students from China, India and South Korea are overrepresented on campuses. On some, Chinese students make up over half of the non-domestic student population. This is the case at the University of Iowa, where Chinese students comprised more than 70% of international undergraduates in 2011.

There is increasing pressure on institutions to attract international students from a broader range of countries, as they look to diversify their student bodies.

A recent research report published by World Education Services aims to address the information needs of higher education institutions by systematically identifying key emerging markets and offering near-term strategies to successfully nurture them.

The research was based on a two-round Delphi survey – a mixed method forecasting technique based on the anonymity and expertise of participants.

The top four emerging markets

The report identifies four emerging markets for international student recruitment and provides comprehensive background information on each country. Here is the summary:

Saudi Arabia
With more than 23,000 students currently enrolled in US institutions, Saudi Arabia is and will continue to be an encouraging market, due to the extension of the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme to 2020.

US institutions that offer intensive English programmes and skillfully engage with sponsoring agencies have the greatest potential to recruit from this rich pool of fully sponsored students.

Due to the launch of the Brazil Scientific Mobility Programme, US institutions can expect a healthy flow of nearly 50,000 Brazilian students enrolling in short-term programmes over the next four years. Institutions that effectively differentiate themselves from competitors can capitalise on this market opportunity.

High recruitment potential is attributable to Vietnam’s growing middle-class and strong study abroad interest. Vietnamese students are the third largest body of international students at American community colleges. Institutions of higher education that identify and reach Vietnamese students with the financial means to study in the US should enjoy a good deal of recruiting success in the coming years.

Opportunities to recruit from Turkey are primarily from its graduate market and dual degree programmes. Turkey is recognised as a tough market to develop, but one with a lot of potential. Higher education institutions can overcome barriers by understanding the preferences and academic needs of Turkish student segments.

Portfolio approach to international recruitment

One of the key recommendations of the report is that institutions should consider adopting a portfolio approach to international recruitment, to mitigate the challenges that emerging markets pose.

Institutions that build a portfolio of countries to diversify their student body reduce financial risks and remain competitive. As mentioned, the emerging markets that institutions should target for their near-term recruitment efforts are Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Vietnam and Turkey.

The growth potential of these emerging markets along with the high volume countries like China, India and South Korea, offers a more balanced and de-risked outreach strategy.

While emerging markets present opportunities and potential for enrolment growth, they also pose corresponding challenges and uncertainties. To this end, the report recommends a portfolio of practices to help institutions cultivate emerging markets.

For example, institutions should leverage their institutional competitive advantage by developing relationships with organisations that fund and-or administer overseas scholarships (for example, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission).

Likewise, institutions should engage with current and former students from emerging markets as brand ambassadors, particularly through social media. This represents a low-cost approach of experimenting with emerging markets and student segments, and then working on one or more in a concerted manner.

In closing, institutions need to recognise the risk of over-relying on a few countries to achieve their international recruitment goals. This over-reliance may not only adversely affect the diversity of the international student body on campus but also the financial health of some institutions.

It is imperative for higher education institutions to have a proactive and informed strategy to de-risk their efforts and prepare for the changing context of international student recruitment from emerging markets.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha