9 strategies universities can use to boost international student numbers

Insights from QUT, UWA, Monash, RMIT and TAFE Queensland International

For a long time now, international education has played a fundamental role in the economic viability of universities and TAFEs across Australia. What’s more, the $20 billion industry has also become key to Australia’s economy, society and global competitiveness, as well as its relationship with other countries.

While Australia has been making leaps and bounds in its ability to attract international students, it is facing stiff competition from a growing list of countries interested in boosting international enrolments.

This increased competition, coupled with increased global student mobility and internationalisation, means it has never been more important for higher education institutions across Australia to ensure they stay ahead of the latest marketing and recruitment techniques to remain competitive and relevant in a rapidly changing industry.

Ahead of International Student Recruitment and Marketing 2016, five of Australia’s top Higher Education institutions share insight into the key tools and strategies they are using to develop an effective international student recruitment and marketing strategy to stay ahead of the game.

Below, Queensland University of Technology (QUT),  Queensland TAFE International, University of Western Australia (UWA), Monash University and RMIT Vietnam, share 9 different steps universities and TAFEs can take to ensure they are successfully engaging students, and in turn, boosting international student numbers.

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  1. Establish a unique selling proposition (USP)

Kent Anderson, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Community and Engagement), University of Western Australia (UWA)

“International education is global and competitive; therefore you have to have focus and a USP. It is important to specifically know and understand what you want to sell and what is unique about your product that is different to another one.

Think about your USP country by country. For example, what is going to make a student want to study in Hokkaido Japan, versus Osaka in Japan? If you think about it in an external way and then use that process to apply internally, it will become easier to identify your USP and from there tailor your campaign.”

  1. Understand what drives your students

Martin Lock, Manager – International Sales & Recruitment, TAFE Queensland International

“Capturing student insights is a big focus of our international student recruitment strategy. We are doing this by understanding some of the key things students are interested in when it comes to study.

Some of these include the portability of education, the employment outcomes, connections to different industries and the practicality of their study.

TAFE Queensland is industry and outcome driven and to understand what our students want, we have undertaken case studies with various students, as well as looking at the different environments students are coming from. The influence from family, local industry, country needs and the influence of lifestyle are all included in our approach to how we recruit students. Our aim is to match the needs and demands of students.

We have discovered that a lot of international student needs and expectations are closely aligned with our domestic market. As a result, we are comparing our domestic and international markets and if there is a correlation between the two of them, we are applying our domestic marketing strategy to our international market as well.”

To read the remaining 7 steps universities can use to boost international student numbers, download the full article here

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Read the full article to learn more about how:

  • The University of Western Australia are establishing a unique sales proposition, becoming and remaining data informed, and expanding their market research
  • TAFE Queensland International is building a cohesive Australian brand by linking study to employment opportunities and also understanding what drives their students
  • Queensland University of Technology is leveraging marketing automation as well as mapping out the student life cycle
  • Monash University is engaging students through digital channels
  • RMIT University Vietnam are monitoring their international competition and branching out to new markets to attract new students

For more information visit www.intl-studentrecruitmentandmarketing.com.au or call +61 2 9229 1000

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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 www.intl-studentrecruitmentandmarketing.com.au or call +61 2 9229 1000 or email enquire@iqpc.com.au

Current trends in international education in a global context

Australia is in an unusual position when it comes to international education. Unlike other countries, international education has long been a key element in the nation’s prosperity and growth.

It’s the country’s third largest export after iron ore and coal, and in 2013 was the largest service export.

And it seems more and more countries are figuring out what Australia has known for a while: the revenue generated from international student enrollments can have massive benefits economically.

As a result, the market has become fiercely competitive. Students now have more choice than ever when it comes to studying aboard, forcing universities to re-think their marketing and recruitment strategies.

Speaking at last week’s International Student Recruitment and Marketing Conference, Professor Monique Skidmore, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at The University of Queensland, shared that while the industry is seeing a growth in totally mobile global students, the entry of new players has resulted in a decline of international enrollment in major universities worldwide.

“In 2012 five destination countries hosted over one half of totally mobile global students. The US hosted 19 per cent, the UK 11, per cent, France seven per cent and Australia and Germany at six per cent.

But the top five also saw their share of international enrollment decline from 55 per cent in 2000 to 47 per cent in 2012. In our part of the world Australia and Japan are rivaled and will soon be eclipsed by new comers like China, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and New Zealand,” she said.

So what strategies can universities use to remain relevant in the wake of new competition?

Professor Skidmore believes it all comes down to brand and capacity building from research excellence and seeking research funding through partnerships with some of the best universities and private organisations in the world.

“In the last decade an emerging key strategy to build and maintain a prominent global position has been through partnerships and consortia. Virtually all the world’s top 50 universities are creating several significant university corporate industry partnerships as part of their global strategy,” she said.

Despite the importance of partnerships, according to Professor Skidmore this strategy is in its intensification phase now and will globally only last for another five years as a key strategy.

“In five years time most of the large universities will have finished their partnership strategies and settled on how many partnerships they’re going to have and resource,” she explained.

The University of Queensland is using a tri-lateral partnership model where they are partnering with global private companies who also have links to some of the top universities worldwide.

“We choose for example a big mining company or engineering firm and we find out which top 50 universities in the world that company is working with, and then we partner with that university as well. That’s how we’re creating out partnerships and then commercialisation comes with this,” Professor Skidmore said.

While partnerships certainly have a big role to play in driving international student numbers in Australia, the take home message from the event last week is that universities don’t need to settle on international student numbers that are consistent with their overall university financial sustainability.

“I think these numbers have to settle around niche product demand in various modes. Universities need an onshore and offshore and online strategy and settle and agree on the delivery of student loans. Setting targets and strategies around competitor analysis, future higher education demand and partnerships will be crucial,” said Professor Skidmore.

If you’d like to find our more about our International Student Recruitment and Marketing Conference drop us an email at enquire@iqpc.com.au or call +61 2 9229 1000.

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Why universities must ‘think like a business’ to survive in a changing market

Upcoming funding changes to higher education policy have seen a dramatic shift in the strategic direction of universities in Australia.

Whilst the role of a university has always been diverse; from teaching to research and community engagement, we’re now seeing a new function emerging – the notion of a university as a commercial entity.

The challenge universities are now faced with is how to effectively plan and evolve revenue models in order to successfully adapt to the major upcoming funding changes.

According to Kelly Smith, Director of the International Centre at the University of Western Australia (UWA), the key to achieving this will be to ‘think like a business.’

“Students are viewing themselves as consumers, which is going to become a much more pointy-ended issue as we move into the fee-deregulated space. Universities need to think about the way they engage in the same way all big and successful organisations do,” he said.

While most universities remain silent on details and strategy towards new fees, UWA is one of the big players in the sector quickly moving to respond to the government’s planned policy changes.

Earlier this month, the university became the first in Australia to announce its proposed pricing in the context of the government’s planned deregulation of student fees in 2016. This followed extensive modelling of different options and likely impacts at a course and institutional level.

The new pricing model means that students will be paying more come 2016; at a new price of $16,000 per year in an undergraduate study and about double the current average fee.

While the fees will vary from university to university, overall, the Federal Government’s higher education reforms, still to get the support of the Senate; mean the cost of a degree will go up at least 30% and as much as 60% more in some cases.

According to Alec Cameron, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (education) at UWA, the increase in price is necessary to ensure the stability and commercial viability of the university in the future, as the industry becomes more competitive.

“The sector has consistently and validly argued that we are underfunded; our proposed pricing model addresses the accumulated funding deficit, by taking the responsibility to set fees at the level we believe is necessary for the university’s future,” he said.

Cameron also says there were a number of factors taken into consideration when creating this new model.

“Our price of $16,000 per year of undergraduate study in 2016 is, of course, higher than current student contributions. In setting this price, we were conscious of: the reductions in cluster funding in the proposed current legislation; the withdrawal of funding from the sector by the previous government; and the Bradley and Lomax-Smith reports commissioned by the previous government, both of which identified underfunding of the sector,” he said.

The university’s decision to act so quickly in response to policy changes was primarily driven by then need to inform prospective students about their plans in the event of deregulation.

“We intend that our pricing is simple and transparent to students. Given recent discussion about the opacity of actual entry standards at universities, and the potential for similar complexity and opacity in pricing models, UWA sees simplicity and transparency in pricing and entry standards as highly valued-principles that we are offering to students,” said Cameron.

While putting the student at front of mind appears to be a central part of UWA’s new pricing, Stephen Weller, Chief Operating Office & Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Corporate) at the Australian Catholic University, warns there will be a whole new set of challenges that will arise as a result – the main one being a change in expectations.

“From a university perspective, we’ll get the same amount of money, because we’ll pass the cost on. Many students aren’t asking what it’s going to look like in 2016. There’s more concern around HECS.

When people start to pay more, they will expect more. There’s clearly an issue of expectation management. It’s an area where the sector has significantly improved over the last four years, because it’s moved into a competitive environment. But there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.

So how does meeting student expectations equate to higher revenue? The answer is improved satisfaction will ultimately lead to more business and more customers, just like any other commercial organisation.

“Universities are either incredibly bureaucratic or incredibly resilient. My view is they’re both. They can be slow to move; they’re traditional institutions. But they don’t have to be. We responded to amalgamations and demand, and as a result our university has grown from 12,000 to 30,000 students,” said Weller.

With students previously basing their decisions around questions like ‘what experience am I getting’ change will see the concept of ‘what price am I paying’ arise. If the demand-driven system is also extended to private providers, it’s really going to put the emphasis on value.

As a result, universities need to think about how to deliver on expectations in a consumer driven environment, and how to market price whilst meeting these expectations.

“That whole notion of how you bundle price and meet expectation is new to the sector in Higher Ed. It’s also new to the consumer. The key message I would say is: you have to be student-centric. You can’t just say it. Put the student at the centre of your business and ask yourself: what is the student’s return on investment? What are they going to get that makes us a better proposition than another university?” said Weller.

This notion is echoed by Smith, who says UWA embracing all things digital in order to capture a holistic view of the entire student life-cycle to meet changing expectations.

“The digitally savvy student is really a digitally savvy consumer. Universities must embrace this in order to engage students on the right levels and improve ROI. With an increase in price, students will expect more in return – a big part of this is delivering quick responses to students in an engaged, online environment,” he said.

The Monash approach to student marketing and recruitment

International student recruitment has always played a prominent role in Australia, both socially and economically – and with looming policy changes, that role is about to become even bigger.

The federal government’s proposed deregulation of fees has forced universities to reassess their approach to funding models. As a result, international student recruitment has become a dominant player in the way universities can source additional revenue in a changing market.

International Education is currently Australia’s highest earning service export, with data from Australian Department of Education for the year ending June 2014 indicating a 12 per cent increase in enrollments; compared with the same period in 2013.

While this recent growth is encouraging, it highlights just how competitive the market has become. Now more than ever, universities need to refine their international student recruitment strategies in order to boost numbers and remain viable.

Monash University is one institution that appears to have gotten the approach right when it comes to marketing for international students.

By adopting a non-traditional ‘student centric’ strategy, they have seen both their domestic and international student enrollments increase dramatically over the last 12 months.

We recently chatted to David Buckingham, Vice President of Marketing and Communications and student recruitment at Monash University who shared a few tips about why their strategy has worked and how it translated directly into ROI:

Put the student at the heart of everything you do

A big factor in Monash’s success is their ability to make the student the centre of interest in the whole marketing process. David says the core of this student centric approach is asking the questions: what does the student need, what does the student want, what is the student looking for; and then figuring out how to meet those expectations.

Invest in new channels

It’s old news that in order to reach the ‘digital student’ institutions must engage with them in the new channels they are active on. But this is sometimes easier said than done in an environment where traditional approaches are favoured rather than embracing the ‘new.’

David says in a rapidly changing environment embracing digital marketing and its associated techniques is vital to any student marketing strategy.

“The way that we go to market is rapidly changing. Since Monash has started investing in new channels and techniques, such as social media; we are in fact finding that what may have applied years ago is no longer relevant. It is a new style of approach to marketing and communication,” David says.

Change your mindset

Monash’s change to a new marketing approach began with shifting their focus from institutional preoccupations to student needs and orientation. This meant bringing in an external orientation that required a different mindset, a different way of thinking about the market, a different way of thinking about needs and adjusting accordingly.

“The capacity to do this effectively goes right to the heart of the cultural agenda that modern day institutions have to be clearly on top of if they want to be effective,” says David.

Train your staff

It may sound straight forward, but no change in strategy will work if the staff are not on board. David says its important staff are equipped with an understanding of all elements of the strategy, and the tools needed to action changes.

When transitioning to a student centric marketing approach, Monash put in place specific training, mentoring and support programmes to ensure their staff were up to date will what was happening.

“We see it as important that staff know they’re not dealing with the unknown and they can actually engage and experience. Understanding that often means brining people in from a non-university background to assist in the mindset and orientation that the new methods and approaches require,” he says.

David will be presenting at the upcoming International Student and Marketing Conference later this year.