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International student recruitment is complex, costly and competitive says a study

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A recent report commissioned by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) how students engage international activities. The case studies are categorised under three headings: promoting student employability; enhancing international recruitment; and supporting academic developments.

Case studies in the HEA report highlight ways in which international alumni can promote student mobility opportunities, support students studying abroad, and bridge the gap for those students who are not (or cannot be) internationally mobile during their studies – through planned activities such as e-mentoring and remotely delivered masterclasses. These initiatives are also invaluable for the employment prospects of international students, where the stakes have been raised by the introduction of non-EU graduates into the DLHE survey.

International student recruitment is complex, costly and competitive, and the recruitment of talented, self-funded international students is being implemented in shorter timeframes and within tighter budgets. The HEA report outlines ways in which alumni are enhancing universities´ recruitment efforts overseas, with many institutions achieving demonstrable impact.

In overseas recruitment, international officers bring essential expertise about the market, and academic colleagues can convey authority and specialised insights – but alumni add authenticity to the message, especially when this is relayed in the prospective students´ native tongue. Through carefully managed programmes, alumni based overseas can also be engaged to deliver independent talks in schools and colleges, extending the institution´s reach into areas where recruitment officers may not operate.

The report also highlights how academic colleagues can collaborate with alumni to enhance international aspects of teaching and learning, facilitating links overseas that otherwise may be inaccessible, or require significant investment. International graduates are also actively supporting colleagues in adapting curriculum content and delivery modes into international markets, while preserving the academic rigour that they became accustomed to as students.

Graduates based overseas are a valuable resource to be nurtured and engaged strategically. They can contribute to institutional success in unique ways that cannot be found through work with other stakeholders: they are the authentic voice of endorsement in international recruitment; the empathetic careers mentor who can connect familiar campus experiences with the overseas employment market; and the leader of a masterclass that couples global perspectives with experiential knowledge of the academic programme.

While activity in this area is increasing, too many areas are underexplored. The use of social media in alumni relations has been well documented, but we need better understanding of how to employ it as a meaningful engagement tool, and how to connect through international sites such as Weibo and VK. Most significantly, though, the case study materials in the HEA report point towards the diversity of the international alumni community, and the need to understand more about attitudes to giving (time and money) to the alma mater.

Greater knowledge in this area will help UK institutions to design and promote programmes that respond to the needs and expectations of international alumni, especially as the growth of Transnational Education (TNE) further diversifies what it means to be an alumnus from a UK university.

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