More of what works best, less of the rest

More of what works best, less of the rest

Last month, the EAIE released a brand new publication on the ever timely issue of international alumni relations. The EAIE Occasional Paper 24, Staying Global: how alumni relations advances the agenda, tackles the many facets of fostering and maintaining relationships with international alumni. This week on the blog, we will be highlighting the book’s themes as we prepare for the Webinar on 26 October that discusses how the book can benefit your practice and your institution when it comes to capitalising on international alumni.

In the coming years, the strategic involvement of alumni in overseas recruitment will become an essential, rather than an occasional, activity across Europe. The rapid increase in global student mobility is a defining trend of the modern higher education system in Europe, as international students become increasingly important to the long-term success of many institutions and the economic development of the countries that host them. While the advantages of effective international student recruitment are evident, the activity has become more competitive, risky and expensive.

Locating opportunities

The market conditions in international student recruitment are shaped by a range of connected forces, including demographics, the increasing number of students who wish to study outside their home countries, the increased global mobility of staff, and international collaborations across teaching and research. Transnational education also presents significant opportunities for institutions wishing to extend their internationalisation efforts and it is further diversifying what it means to be an alumnus: how is alumni affinity affected when a student has neither physically visited the institution’s campus nor met a member of faculty in person?

Rapid developments in the capabilities and accessibility of technology have facilitated new models of delivery and engagement in higher education; correspondingly, they have affected the way in which international recruitment is undertaken. The engagement of prospective students online is attractive in an environment of tight operating budgets and intensifying competition. As Choudaha outlines in his informative report on this subject, “social media offers more credible and cost-effective connectivity with prospective students”.

Traditional models of international student recruitment are now typically complemented (or replaced) by online activities that allow for greater interaction, wider reach and lower costs. These modes of engagement also provide new opportunities to direct prospective students, and their families, toward online platforms that facilitate further interaction with alumni and overcome the traditional restrictions of time zone and language.

Enhancing recruitment efforts

Many institutions have long-standing programmes through which alumni are enhancing recruitment efforts overseas and supporting their alma maters in attaining a competitive edge. International officers bring essential expertise about market trends and forces, and academic colleagues can deliver specialised insights and convey authority, but alumni add authenticity to an institution’s recruitment message, especially when it can be communicated in the prospective students’ native language.

Through carefully managed programmes, alumni based overseas can be engaged, for example, to deliver independent talks in schools and colleges, extending the institution’s reach into areas where recruitment officers may not operate. International alumni can also serve as ambassadors, engaging with prospective international students and their parents to help boost recruitment efforts and grow connections overseas, especially at conversion time (when an applicant is deciding to take up an institution’s offer of a place). The main opportunities to meet face-to-face with international students’ parents are during recruitment and graduation, and throughout the recruitment phase alumni are well positioned to help establish early connections.

In the recently published EAIE Occasional Paper, Staying Global, colleagues and I explore in detail the practical aspects of successful programmes that engage alumni to support international recruitment:

  1. Ensuring programmes account for cultural norms and diversity
  2. Building effective collaboration between the alumni office and international recruitment teams
  3. Achieving long-term reach and scale
  4. Engaging alumni effectively in online platforms
  5. Building mechanisms to assure a quality experience for all
  6. Measuring the impact of alumni relations programming

On this final point, unlike in some other areas of alumni engagement, international-student recruitment can provide clear quantitative indicators that allow for more sophisticated forms of evaluation. Changes in application and conversion rates, benchmarked against previous years, and recruitment trends in the sector can usefully indicate whether alumni involvement is having a meaningful impact on recruitment activities.

Focus on outcomes

More generally, the value of alumni engagement should not be determined solely by measuring inputs (eg number of contactable alumni, budget, the attractiveness of the institution’s website, etc) or processes (eg the number of events delivered, the quantity of emails sent, website hits, etc). Value is concerned with impact, and impact is concerned with outcomes: for example, increased access to internships, improved recruitment figures, volunteer hours donated as a result of an event or funding for bursaries.

While the preoccupation with input provokes us to do more and measuring processes tells us how busy we are, measuring outcomes showcases how well we’ve leveraged our resources and efforts. In this case, it tells us how valuable alumni are to our institutions.

Focusing on outcomes allows us to do more of what works best and less of the rest. Engaging international alumni in recruitment efforts can have a significant positive impact on the lives of alumni and students and on the future success of institutions. Alumni relations professionals who develop work in this area in a considered, ambitious and strategic way – and who focus on outcomes over inputs – can expect a substantial return on investment.

Nicholas is an independent consultant and Director of the Bridge Group, United Kingdom.