Using real-time data to inform your student recruitment strategy

Using real-time data to inform your student recruitment strategy

This entire week on the EAIE blog, we will be covering the summer issue of Forum magazine. This whole issue is dedicated to data in international education. We look at how data can be and are used, as well as collected by practitioners. Today’s blog post zooms in on the use of student course search data for the purpose of international student recruitment. In our global, fast-paced higher education market, real-time data can offer invaluable insights not available elsewhere.

In an increasingly changing and competitive environment for international students, universities are looking to use up-to-date data to inform their strategy for recruitment. The reliance on traditional markets has started to shift, and universities have been seeking to diversify their recruitment to secure a broader foundation for the pipeline of students.

Fierce competition

The much publicised decline in Indian applications to the United Kingdom – in large part because of tightening visa regimes and the abolition of the post-study work visa since 2012 – has been compounded by the positive steps taken by competitors like Australia, the United States, Canada and New Zealand. This resulted in a 10% year on year fall in enrolments from India to the UK for students starting in September 2015, which follows a staggering 49% fall in first year enrolments in the period from 2010/2011 to 2012/2013. To help combat this, UK universities have sought to find new avenues to replace these lost students from India, with parts of the European Union proving most fruitful – there was a year on year increase of 87% from Croatia, 55% from the Czech Republic, 36% from Romania and 26% from Italy when comparing 2015 acceptances to 2014.
In October 2014, Germany removed tuition fees for both home and international students, which has helped to make it a more attractive destination for prospective international students. This allowed Germany to move its traditional primary sources of international students from Turkey and China. There were now more than 320,000 international students in Germany enrolled in 2015, an increase of 7% on 2014.

Data to the rescue

In this fast-paced and competitive environment for international student recruitment, identifying where positive opportunities for new sources of students lie may not always be immediately obvious. It has required a step-change in the ways that universities use data to engage with and ultimately recruit these students. In particular, the need to access real time information has increased in importance. As prospective students are increasingly using online means to research and refine their decision making about what and where to study, this simultaneously provides an opportunity for universities to better understand where their prospective students are coming from. Through the use of analytics and online insights, universities can build up a more robust picture of where demand is being generated from – which countries are bearing fruit based on marketing efforts, and others which are growing organically and may be ripe for a more concerted effort.

Timely insights

Previously, much of the national data that universities have relied on to inform international marketing strategies have been 2–3 years out of date by the time it was published. In such a fast paced environment where changing visa regimes, currency fluctuations, new scholarship programmes and the marketing efforts of competitor countries and universities can end up resulting in-year, let alone year on year changes. Universities are therefore often finding it more useful to examine trends in enquiries and searches of prospective students, rather than belatedly waiting for historic enrolment data to become available.
Course listing websites like the one I work for – Hotcourses – offer tools to support universities and inform their international marketing strategies with in-year, real time data that capture millions of searches from prospective international students across the globe each year. Our Insights tool offers the ability to refine this data based on when the searches were conducted, the region, country or indeed even the city where these searches were made, where they were looking (both at country and university level) and what their preferred subject is provides hugely valuable information for universities. This kind of search data validate existing marketing activity, but can also be used to help identify new market opportunities. This is particularly true in cases where a university is hoping to diversify its recruitment efforts to specific countries or subject areas.
The ability to access real-time data based on the current searches of prospective students allows universities to gain a much better handle on new sources of students, particularly from diversification markets, and in turn provide a sounder, evidence-based foundation to inform and shape international student recruitment strategies.
Aaron is Insights Director at Hotcourses, UK.
EAIE members will receive their copies of Forum on their doorsteps soon, but can already download the full version online. Non-members can view the editor’s pick in the Resources Library. Gain full access to Forum by becoming an EAIE member.