Attracting and Retaining International Students: A Primer

The EvoLLLution | Attracting and Retaining International Students: A Primer
The international student marketplace is extremely lucrative for Canadian and American institutions, but standing out requires focus and investment.

The population of international students enrolling at institutions across North America is booming. What used to be a niche market is one colleges and universities continent-wide are racing to dominate, especially given the benefits these students can bring to institutions both during and after their enrollment. Western University’s President Amit Chakma chaired the Advisory Panel for Canada’s International Education Panel, and in this Q&A he shares his thoughts on the opportunities and challenges of competing in this marketplace.

EvoLLLution (Evo): Why are so many institutions across North America working to attract international students?

Amit Chakma (AC): Canada needs top talent to fuel innovation, drive economic prosperity and propel its society forward. Attracting the best international students will ensure diversity in our institutions and help secure Canada’s place as a destination for top talent, global partnerships and business opportunities. In addition, North America’s finest institutions offer the capacity to open their doors to the world and educate the next generation of leaders on a global level.

Evo: How does serving a larger population of international students impact regional economic growth and development?

AC: We know that international students have a direct economic impact in Canada, totaling an estimated $8 billion annually. A large component of this happens locally and regionally. Our community also benefits greatly from the diversity of cultures and experience the University brings to London and region.

Evo: What does it take for a university to attract prospective international students?

AC: It takes a solid academic reputation for research excellence, quality programs and teaching, great employability and career prospects and, in many cases, academic scholarships to make an international education affordable to attract prospective international students. It is also important for students to feel welcomed to the university and city that they are about to choose.

Evo: What are a few of the most significant challenges involved with attracting international students?

AC: There are more than 20,000 universities worldwide. In some instances students know they will choose an overseas destination because their home country does not have enough university places to offer qualified applicants. India is a prime example of a country that does not have sufficient capacity to educate its university-eligible cohort. There are more than 100 million students. How does a student contemplating leaving their country of origin for postsecondary studies, for whatever reason, choose from among such a vast number?

We have found that students will choose their university based on a selection of factors: quality of academic programs, value for money invested, opportunities for scholarships and financial aid, postgraduate work and residence opportunities, plus the safety and warm welcome of our community here in London, Ontario. In the search for a quality program, students and parents will often look at global rankings, especially when trying to evaluate the quality of a university they have only just heard of for the first time.

To meet students on their ground and terms, Western University makes use of a number of tools and strategies, ranging from activity within Ontario, the rest of Canada and overseas. These include participating at university fairs and individual school visits abroad, and most recently, virtual university fairs.

Building relationships with key schools in our target regions is also a priority, and to that end, our liaison team schedules regular visits to those areas. We also provide occasional campus tours for groups of guidance counselors visiting Canada from overseas. Our efforts are supported by social media efforts on Facebook, Twitter, etc. We have recently expanded our offerings to Mandarin on Sina Weibo. We are considering social media access in Spanish and Portuguese for future.

Evo: What does it take to retain international students and support their persistence to degree completion?

AC: We work hard to ensure success for students through a wide range of programs including English language programs, academic support, transition and enrichment programming to enable students to thrive. International student services are a large focus for Western, with the aim of engaging students in our community while also providing services they need throughout their degree program—from orientation to graduation and career development.

This interview has been edited for length.

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Key Takeaways

  • In Canada, international students have an economic impact of $8 million annually, contributing to regional growth and development.
  • Developing strong ties with international partners is critical to helping any given institution stand out in a marketplace that has over 20,000 competitors.
  • Offering specific programs and services aimed at serving the needs of international students is critical to supporting their persistence and completion.

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