Admissions, Student recruitment

International Student Recruitment: Here's What Works in 2021

Owing to widespread internet connectivity and increased global mobility, studying abroad has never been easier. Even during the Covid pandemic, countries such as the UK managed to enrol a record number of international students. international student recruitment

Data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) reveals that UK universities experienced a 12% increase in the number of non-UK and EU undergraduate students starting their studies in 2020, achieving a record total of 55,380.

» FREE TRIAL: Start Recruiting New Students with a Free Trial of FULL FABRIC  Origin

The international student recruitment trend is on an upward trajectory in many places. According to Project Atlas, the global international student population rose by almost 120 per cent to 4.6 million in 2017, up from an estimated 2.1 million in 2001.

Read on to find out how you can refine your international student recruitment plan by implementing the most effective international student recruitment strategies for 2021.

Incentives for international student recruitment

International students benefit universities in significant ways. Firstly, there’s the economic gains. In the US alone, international students contributed a whopping $39.4 billion to the economy in 2016. Then there’s the numerous social and cultural gains. 

But what can you, as a higher education representative, do in 2021 to boost international enrolments at a time of unparalleled competition?

Adopting a flexible approach, marketing your brand online, effective communication and letting your students and alumni be your best university ambassadors should all factor into your 2021 international student recruitment plan. 

Having the right IT infrastructure in place to implement your strategies is also crucial. Higher education admissions software is also going to play a huge role in student recruitment more generally for the foreseeable future. 

Let’s take a closer look at what's working for institutions today and how technology is acting as the primary facilitator for streamlined international student recruitment.

International Recruitment Strategy #1: Exercising flexibility towards international markets

It’s important for universities to exercise flexibility when it comes to identifying countries to recruit international students from. Economic fluctuations, pandemics and the elimination - or introduction - of national scholarships can all have an impact. 

These things can happen almost overnight, so it helps to be prepared and proactive. Put processes in place so you can identify countries that are:

  • Experiencing a lot of students choosing to study abroad 
  • Showing signs of international student mobility growth
  • Emerging as a market for international student mobility

Once you’ve identified the different primary, secondary and tertiary markets you’re going to target, it’s time to strategize your approach for each. As well as travelling to your target countries to participate in events, you need to think about how you’re going to appeal to different audiences online.

Tech tip #1: Use a university admissions software solution like FULL FABRIC that allows you to translate your application portal into different languages. 

Giving international students the option to apply to your institution in their first language can help them move through the application funnel with more confidence, minimising the risk of them disengaging and becoming ‘cold’. 

Tech tip #2: Use your university admissions software to promote and track your offline and online recruitment events. You can set up automated reminder emails to registrants leading up to the event and follow up emails afterwards - emails that are designed to nurture individuals through the next stage of the application journey. 

International Recruitment Strategy #2: Involving international stakeholders

Customer reviews are an important consideration in the buying process for consumers, and the same applies to those seeking an international study experience.

Before committing to an application, prospects are likely to do some digging to find out what others are saying. That’s where student ambassadors can come in useful.

Get existing international students and alumni to advocate your brand by telling their stories. Once the content has been produced, leverage your social media platforms and to get it in front of the right people at the right time. You can boost visibility by...

  • Promoting international study stories via paid ads on social media, targeting specific countries, states or regions. You can also target users based on their interactions with your website, job title, interests, and more.
  • Creating a hub on your university website dedicated to featuring content, resources and events for international students - see University of Cambridge.
  • Collaborating with national organisations to boost international enrolments - see Study UK, a  national campaign to promote the UK as a first-choice study destination to international students from all over the world.

In this video, international students from the University of Exeter share their favourite things about the city and university in their mother language.

International Recruitment Strategy #3: Diversifying and personalising communications  

Generic communication just doesn't cut it with today’s prospects.

To nurture your relationship with individuals, you need to ensure that your messaging is personalised and relevant. This means keeping your website and social media channels up-to-date with important information relating to international admissions. 

It also means crafting relevant emails to international prospects at every point in the application process to drive engagement. (Research by Experian shows emails with personalised subject lines, for instance, are 26 per cent more likely to be opened).

Despite the explosion of new mediums and methodologies, email and text are still the preferred channels for consumers. SMS is valued when it comes to urgent communications that need an action, such as an event or application deadline reminder. 

Research shows that email communication delivers the highest ROI for marketers. It’s also more effective when combined with other methods, such as ads on LinkedIn, for instance.

Creating email workflows

You can use your admissions software to create engaging and streamlined email workflows for international prospects. In FULL FABRIC, the automation tab allows you to build a workflow based on different variables - including subject of interest and country of residence

Workflow example

You might decide to trigger a workflow when an individual registers for one of your international recruitment events. Your workflow may look something like this:

Email 1 - Thank you for registering 

Email 2 - Have you downloaded our prospectus?

Email 3 - Event reminder

Email 4 - Follow-up/ links to webinars from the event

Email 5 - Ready to start your application? 

Upon starting their application, the prospect enters a new workflow that is specifically designed to nurture them through the application process. If they don’t start an application, they are sent a reminder after a set period of time has elapsed. 

International Recruitment Strategy #4: Optimising your website

Optimising your website for international students is a no brainer, and should form part of every university’s international student recruitment strategy. 

Paying close attention to your landing pages and contact forms is also paramount for converting more visitors to your website into qualified leads. 

Bearing in mind the average website users’ attention span is eight seconds, your landing pages should include key information about your programmes in a readable way. 

Minimise your use of complex language and colloquialisms to make text accessible for an international audience. When designing your landing pages and contact forms, try to see the experience from the prospect’s point of view. 

Using visual elements like infographics and videos to explain things like tuition fees, accommodation and programme structure can benefit both domestic and international students. Understanding these elements will make the decision making process easier.

International admissions forms are easy to build with FULL FABRIC. You can use drag-and-drop templates to create robust yet visually appealing landing pages.

A high quality admissions software system will allow you to build a branded application portal that shows the user specific content relating to the application stage they’re at. There’s also the option to sync your admissions portal with LinkedIn to make the application process easier for international post-graduate applicants.

Ultimately, your institution’s international student recruitment priorities should be informed by data. Ask yourself: 

  • How much visibility do you have over your recruitment funnel? 
  • Are you able to identify where each international lead is at in the application process at any given time? 
  • Can you compare this year’s statistics to last year’s without having to dig out spreadsheets?

If you’ve answered ‘no’ to any of the above, it’s time to invest in higher education admissions software. We’re currently allowing universities and other higher education providers to try our Origin Starter solution for free - why not give it a go today?

Originally published Mar 22 2021New call-to-action

How can universities recruit international students? 

Here are some tips for how universities can recruit international students: 1) Use an admissions platform like FULL FABRIC; 2) Involve international stakeholders in content and marketing efforts; 3) Customise your communications to ensure relevancy; 4) Optimise your website, including forms and portals; 5) Run in-person and online recruitment fairs, and; 6) Exercise flexibility towards international markets.

How do I become a recruitment agent for international students?

You can apply to become a recruitment agent for international students by visiting the institution's website and checking the vacancies page. Representatives offer advice, information and assistance with applications. Current students can also apply to be an international student recruitment agent. 

Why do universities recruit international students?

Universities recruit international students because they create income opportunities, enrich the learning environment and help foster a diverse campus experience for all.

Kate Tattersfield

Kate Tattersfield is a former teacher turned content creator at FULL FABRIC, specialising in writing for the education sector.

Related articles

6 Digital Marketing Strategies In Higher Education

Increase Applicants by Upgrading Your Application Portal

7 Lead Generation Strategies for Higher Education Institutions

Student Relationship Management: Here's All You Need To Know