According to the questionnaire done to higher education institutions (HEI) by Opetushallitus, 80 % of Finnish higher education institutions had a strategy for recruiting international students. In these HEIs, four main focus areas were China, India, Russia and Vietnam. The main tools used in student recruitment were
- different webpages
- increased interest in using student recruitment agents
- student ambassadors
- optimizing search engines and marketing.
The main challenges were considered to be e.g. insufficient resources in marketing and recruiting, in addition to understanding target countries. (Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö 2019)
In 2018, there were in total 20.237 foreign students studying in higher education in Finland. Nearly 10 000 of them studied in universities of applied sciences, that is 6,7 % of the total amount of students. The most significant group of foreign students came from Asia (46 %), Vietnam being number one. The second biggest group came from Russia, China being number three. (1)
It is difficult to estimate how many international students use the services of student recruitment agents. However, according to the international studies, agents play a significant role in the global education market. With a competent agent, universities can strengthen the recruitment process of the most suitable and motivated students for their degree programs. This collaboration between university and agent requires mutual commitment, professionalism and responsible marketing. (5)
At Metropolia University of applied sciences, there are 1400 foreign degree students, covering over 100 nationalities. The percentage of foreign students was 8,64 % in 2019. Most of the non-EU/EEA students come from Vietnam, India and Nepal. In On-Demand education, the biggest groups come from India, Philippines and Vietnam. Where do our future international students come from and how can we increase the number of international students with the help of educational agents? In this blog post, we will discuss the needs and strategies to develop the international student recruitment services at Metropolia.
International student market and effects of Covid-19
According to the ICEF Monitor (2), the pandemic will have a significant impact on the global economy and international educators are looking ahead to try to prepare for the rest of 2020 and into 2021. Professor Simon Marginson, the director of the Centre for Global Higher Education at the University of Oxford, predicts the market shifting so that the international student market will become “a buyer’s market” – institutions and schools competing harder for a smaller population of prospective students. Secondly, he states that there will be a greater emphasis on intra-regional mobility. Issues of proximity, health security, and affordability will sharpen a trend towards greater mobility within the region, especially so in East Asia.
According to the Studyportals COVID19 Impact Report (6) the expectations for 2020 international enrolment are not promising:
- 83% of higher education professionals expect a decrease or large decrease of international enrolments
- 60% expect a drop overall.
This means that international mobility is becoming increasingly uncertain. Both professionally and personally, it has been a challenging time for us all as the market dynamics are reset. Despite of the immediate impacts of the coronavirus on international student recruitment, we at Metropolia UAS have been working remotely in close cooperation both with our existing educational agents and with potential new ones.
We have also new insights in mind as the education industry continues to look ahead to the post-COVID recovery. The outbreak of COVID19 certainly accelerated the plans for online education, however, we believe that for international markets one needs to clearly select the degree programmes we focus first since implementing them requires significant amount of time, money and effort. In this development our educational agents play an important role, helping us to analyse the specific market needs. We have been monitoring closely the prospective students behaviour, managed crisis communication towards our partner agents as well as applicants’ parents. Although the pandemic has made us to change our short-term plans, our focus is in the big picture and long-term goals – this means visualizing the internationalisation in the new post-COVID19 world.
Goals of international student recruitment
Regarding educational agents, our focus at Metropolia is in building reliable, long term partnerships that will provide us motivated students, rather than just opting for the quantity. In our partnerships, we have opted for the agents having connections and knowledge of both Finland and the market in concern.
Building trustworthy relationships takes time and a lot of benchmarking through various international events and networking both face-to-face and online.
Another important factor for us is to get potential applicants willing to stay and work in Finland, to boost Finland’s economy and future prospects. According to International higher education and research policy for years 2017–2025, one of the seven actions for the global development of higher education focuses on facilitating foreigners’ studying and working in Finland (4). It is estimated that the need for new labor in Finland will be around 60.000 people annually by year 2035.
During the spring, our focus has been in adapting to the pandemic with the help of online facilities and in supporting our agents during this difficult phase. These uncertain times have created a lot of concern from parents’ side whether to send their young adults to study abroad or not. According to ICEF Monitor (3), parents play a significant role in decision making for studies abroad, and they are also concerned about the return on investment for graduates. In practice, this means e.g. a strong need for emphasizing Finland as a safe country with a good healthcare system, highlighting our support and guidance functions at the university for our international students, as well as ensuring that our partner agents are carefully selected, reliable partners.
As a multidisciplinary university of applied sciences, we have a strong offering and expertise in the fields of
- International Business
which have a huge demand in our target markets. Furthermore, U-Multirank 2020 (7) has presented Metropolia amongst the TOP 25 performing universities globally under the category “Co-publications with industrial partners”. According to the U-Multirank 2020 report, Metropolia performs well in the Regional Engagement dimension. This ranking is beneficial for us also in regards of student recruitment.
In terms of partnerships, we have started this spring collaboration with StudyNordic in the Indian market. We also work in very close collaboration with our already existing partners Edunation (Asian countries), Viope (India and China) and IIHS (Sri Lanka). Beside these existing target markets, we are also developing our agent relations to Middle East and Latin America. You can find our current educational partners listed on our website. We are happy to discuss a new potential partnership in international student recruitment.
- Finnish National Agency of Education 2020. Tilastoja korkeakoulujen ulkomaalaisista tutkinto opiskelijoista vuonna 2018 (opens PDF) (24.06.2020)
- ICEF Monitor – Looking ahead – scenario planning and recovery forecast for international education (01.04.2020)
- ICEF Monitor – The crucial role of parents in international student recruitment and retention (17.04.2019)
- International higher education and research policy for years 2017–2025 (opens PDF). Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2017:11.
- Kansainvälisten korkeakouluopiskelijoiden maahantulo ja integroituminen sujuvaksi yhteistyöllä (aukeaa PDF). Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön julkaisuja 2019:31 (24.06.2020)
- Studyportals.com COVID19 Impact Report, April 2020
- U-Multirank 2020 report (opens PDF).
Aija Ahokas, Manager of Education Export / Senior Lecturer (MEd, RN, Specialist Qualification in Product Design).Ms Ahokas has many years of working experience abroad in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Her core competencies are in different international activities, networks and partnerships. In addition, her competencies include teaching and tutoring multicultural students especially in Nursing. Transnational education is close to her heart.
Sirpa Rutanen, Communications & Marketing Specialist (MA, Specialist Qualification in Product Design). Ms Rutanen is a strong professional in International Marketing and Communications, fluent in 7 Languages. Her core areas of expertise are International Marketing, Branding, Communication and Public Relations. Having lived in France and Germany, with relatives in four different continents, and worked over 10 years in International Sales for a major airline, her passion is in Intercultural Competence and Communication.
Together Ms Ahokas and Ms Rutanen have worked for over six years to develop and promote Metropolia and its international student recruitment and other educational services.