What is the student recruitment’s insight in the age of ‘the new normal’?
According to the Studyportals COVID19 Impact Report, the recruitment of future students has moved online. The survey showed that
- digital promotion (82%)
- online counseling and support (74%)
- and virtual events (60%)
are taken up by most of the education institutions.
In this blog post, we will discuss how to develop long-term student recruitment success online and foster engagement, in addition to ethical discussion.
Shifting to online brings long-term success
We see the post-COVID19 world shifting so that more and more communication and marketing between the university and the prospective students will be online. Thus, the role of student recruitment agents needs to change so that they will provide us more digital recruitment options like webinars and virtual fairs, and the university provides e.g. virtual campus tours.
The same trend is predicted by Studyportals survey, Studyportals COVID19 Impact Report, stating less money to be available for travel and staff, and more budgets available for digital recruitment tools. The good news is that the return on investment in digital marketing is easier to measure compared to traditional methods like fairs.
Perhaps the world has changed forever? We believe that operating on a different landscape will change our ways to interact with prospective students. This requires new approaches to brand visibility and engagement between educational agents and providers. There will be an increasingly significant role in digital marketing to develop brand visibility and engagement. This might include any or all of the following:
- content marketing and storytelling via social media
- use of student ambassadors
- virtual open days and study fairs
Not only digital marketing, but also teaching and learning is shifting online. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to transform curricula of higher education institutions. The pandemic is impacting student preferences towards online possibilities. International students play an important role in today’s universities, as they are a significant source of diversity and revenue. Therefore, in the future we need to be ready to offer more and more education online. Students’ expectations for instructional quality and a better technical experience online will rise throughout the year and many schools and universities will rely heavily on online delivery for much of 2020 (2).
How to foster engagement – student experiences and campus tours in the age of social distancing
In international student recruitment, online does not mean impersonal. There are several ways to remotely connect with students, their parents and educational partners without losing the human touch. Along with the prospective students, the study counselors and partner agents need to experience the campus. Thus, the role of digital material on campuses and study experiences have gained a significant role in marketing (1). Institutions need to think about the ways to leverage mobile self-guided tours to fill information gaps and provide an interactive campus experience that can be explored at home or on campus while maintaining social distance. In addition, with the help of the webinars, the prospective students can watch a presentation or a demo lecture, or simply have their questions answered live, feeling connected from the comfort and safety of their home.
At Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, for the past three years, we have already been organizing webinars together with our educational partners with positive experiences. This autumn, we will be hosting various both undergraduate and graduate focused webinars together with our educational agents as well as participating in webinars organized by third parties. The benefit of virtual sessions is that it enables the university to chat in real-time with students who are interested in studying abroad. We have already participated in two marketing webinars in Indian market, and as a result we can already conclude that there is an ever growing interest towards Finland and Finnish higher education. We were happy to showcase our institution among some of the best universities in the world, an important milestone in university branding as such. We are eagerly looking forward to seeing how effectively this will generate leads and prospective students.
Emphasized role of ethics in partnerships
Due to the shift to online, the role of ethics is becoming even more important than before – this applies to the international student recruitment, collaboration between the educational agent and provider. The importance of ethics and human rights is highlighted in the transnational education roadmap by Finnish National Agency for Education (5).
One outstanding guideline to benchmark and follow is the Australian Agent Code Of Ethics. The Australian education and training sector expects education agents to adhere to seven ethical principles:
- Integrity – being straightforward and honest in all professional and business dealings
- Objectivity – not allowing professional judgment to be compromised by bias or conflict of interest
- Professional competence and due care – maintaining professional knowledge and professional service, and acting diligently
- Transparency – declaring conflicts of interest to all clients, especially when service fees are charged to both the education provider and the prospective student
- Confidentiality – respecting and preserving the confidentiality of personal information acquired and not releasing such information to third parties without proper authority
- Professional behaviour – acting in accordance with relevant laws and regulations and dealing with clients competently, diligently and fairly
- Professionalism and purpose – acting in a manner that will serve the interests of clients and the wider society even at the expense of self-interest; recognising that dedication to these principles is the means by which the profession can earn the trust and confidence of stakeholder groups (4).
In addition, there is an increasing need to reach out to high school counselors. International schools offering K-12 English-medium instruction represent an increasingly important source of high-caliber students to universities around the world. An ISC Research report, “Higher Education Report: Pathways from K-12 English-medium International Schools to University 2018,” states that a key to recruiting success is strong relationships between universities and international school college counsellors (3).
Due to COVID19, many campus visits and college fairs have been cancelled. However, there is a need to communicate effectively and share the best possible and accurate information online with educational agents and high school counselors. With limited chances to meet face-to-face with the agents, education providers need to trust that agents adhere to high standards of professionalism and have accountability for their business partners.
At Metropolia UAS, we have strengthened our counselor cooperation and networks through our agent contacts in our target markets. Comprehensive training of the educational agents and high school counselors is the basics of ethical, efficient and successful student recruitment. We have put a considerable amount of our personal work in ensuring that our educational agents are top professionals in their field, highly committed to assisting applicants in finding a suitable educational path, with a thorough knowledge of the target market as well as of Finland and its higher education. They are experts on pre-screening the prospective students with motivation, sufficient ability and resources to study abroad. Naturally, our Head of Schools and Admissions Services play a significant role as well, and we are continuously working together to develop further our internal processes to meet our prospective students’ and educational partners’ needs for the best possible outcome.
- Studyportals blog Digital Marketing and Recruitment for Universities during COVID-19
- ICEF Monitor 6.5.2020
- ICEF Monitor 5.2.2019
- Australian government: Australian International Education and Training – Agent Code of Ethics.pdf
- OPH: Koulutusviennin tiekartta 2020-2023
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.