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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