How the rise of IBCs are changing the game for international student recruitment

The game is changing for the higher education sector in Australia. As more countries such as Canada, Malaysia and the US revamp their strategies and efforts to attract students, Australia is facing more competition for international students than ever.

As a result, universities are looking for new ways to refine their recruitment and marketing strategies to ensure they can adapt to today’s landscape and appeal to the student of the 21st century.

And on the surface, it looks like these efforts are working. According to recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, international students contributed to a record $17.5 billion to the Australian economy for the 12 months to the end of March 2015 – a 14 per cent surge compared to the previous corresponding period.

What’s more, Australia is still topping the charts when it comes to being a favourable country to study, sitting among the top five destinations for international students globally.

But how long will this last in a market dominated by increasing competition and new entrants?

Traditional competitors like the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand are ramping up their efforts to attract more overseas students to compensate for a drop in domestic student numbers.

And new entrants, like Malaysia, Singapore and Japan are casting their net wider when it comes to international recruitment, aiming to attract students from the same countries targeted by Australia.

In order to ensure the flow of foreign students, Australian universities are beginning to roll-out International Branch Campuses (IBCs) as part of their recruitment and marketing strategies, to build brand awareness and improve their reputation in an increasingly competitive market.

RMIT is one university which has opened an IBC in Vietnam in 2001 as part of an internationalisation strategy to strengthen the institution’s “contribution to the social, economic and environmental well being of the international communities in which it operates”.  It has now become Australia’s largest IBC out of the 13 IBCs in the Australian higher education sector.

Christine's Photo 12 May 2015Ahead of International Student Recruitment and Marketing 2015, Christine Chow, Principal Advisor Global Business for Science, Engineering and Health at RMIT University, explores the  global landscape of IBCs and provide some insights on establishing an IBC based on her experience with RMIT Vietnam.

The RMIT objective: strengthening offshore student numbers

International Student Campuses represent the far end of the spectrum of international student recruitment and will intensify the competition for the pool of international students Australia is currently getting.

IBCs not only provide offshore students in a branch campus, but they also provide a pipeline and pathway for offshore students to study at a home campus – offering a different route to study in the onshore campuses in Australia.

In 2001 RMIT was invited to submit a proposal to the Vietnamese Government for the establishment of an international university with a “technical and vocational emphasis.” At that stage we didn’t have an explicit offshore international student recruitment strategy, but 15 years down the track, we have matured and our strategy now revolves around growing our offshore student numbers.

The main reason for this is because we are almost reaching our limit of growth in our onshore campuses in Melbourne. Therefore our strategy is to grow our offshore student numbers, including strengthening the position of RMIT Vietnam and promoting student mobility.

Building an IBC: critical success factors

  1. Government Support

Local and national government support is a critical success factor for any university looking to build an IBC. Otherwise they face the risk of building international campuses that the government does not approve. These days it’s quite common for local government to provide infrastructure and funding support for foreign universities to build IBCs.

In the case of RMIT Vietnam, we had a great level of support from the government – but not in terms of funding. RMIT Vietnam was the first foreign owned university in Vietnam, and we had support from the government because they offered a very generous land lease to help us resettle some of the farmers in order to give us the land for our main campus site.

  1. Adequate funding

Funding is another important component of rolling-out an IBC. RMIT received generous donations from Atlantic Philanthropies – which is a US philanthropy organisation – which helped us build capacity and the campus in Vietnam.

  1. Understanding local conditions

Very often universities going into a foreign country to establish an IBC may not realise that there’s a huge difference between their home university and the host country environment – they’re culturally different.

Apart from the language we have to understand that students in other countries might have a different learning style. For example in Vietnam we found students are much quieter in comparison to Australian students who have a Western style of questioning and challenging the prevailing paradigm. The difference in culture and religion requires respect and observation of local customs.

  1. Aligning the organisational structure

The organisational structure of both the home campus and the branch campus needs to be aligned. Because universities these days have a vertical, functional alignment they sometimes may not foster teamwork. So it’s quite important that both campuses work together to foster mutual respect, trust, commitment, and effective communication.

  1. Develop the research capacity of the campus

Developing the research capacity of the branch campus has become an increasingly important factor in building an IBC, because most national government’s will want the branch campus to have more research capacity to help the host country to boost its innovation capacity.

Results so far: the IBC impact on student numbers and engagement

Since opening the RMIT campus in Vietnam, we have seen Vietnam student numbers grow – and we hope to grow more in the future because we are planning to introduce more science and technology programs to fit in with the Vietnam Government’s agenda and priorities.

But the interesting result is we have actually seen more Vietnamese students coming to Australia as a whole which is quite surprising. My view is that the presence for RMIT in Vietnam actually signals that Australia is a very good country to study, and its presence is attracting more Vietnamese students coming to our home campus and Australia.

This is a success factor we didn’t plan for originally, because we saw RMIT Vietnam as more about the pathway and the pipeline, rather than attracting Vietnamese students to our Australian campus. But we have seen more first year students applying to RMIT, and also to other universities throughout Australia – its actually benefiting the whole of Australia by having a presence there.

We’ve found that the IBC acts almost like a cultural ambassador. So we’re very mindful that we have to support the IBC in terms of the fact that it not only represents our home campus, but it also represents our country.

To learn more about the proliferation of IBCS and RMIT Vietnam’s IBC experience, join Christine Chow at International Student Recruitment and Marketing 2015.

For more information download the brochure here, visit or call +61 2 9229 1000 or email


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