Simplified Enrollments and Improved Communication Central to Global Competitiveness
The international student marketplace is booming, but American universities are failing to capitalize on the opportunity according to new research from Study Portals and the British Council. While universities in other English-speaking countries, like Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland are growing their international student populations, and while institutions from non-English-speaking countries are growing their English programming to attract this audience, American universities are not capitalizing on their many competitive advantages. In this interview, Carmen Neghina discusses some of the findings from the recent report and shares her thoughts on what American universities can do to become more competitive internationally.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Where are North American universities failing when it comes to attracting international students for full-time degree programs and intensive English language programs?
Carmen Neghina (CN): Our research shows that North American universities need to better understand the information needs of prospective international students.
The most important area for improvement we see is in how universities respond and communicate with prospective international students. Overall, our student researchers sent almost 1,000 emails to universities, asking for additional information about tuition or language tests and requirements. 20 percent of these emails went unanswered, and an additional 70 percent received no follow-ups from universities inquiring whether the students were still interested in the program or required additional information.
Evo: How do North American universities compare with universities in other English-speaking countries when it comes to attracting international students?
CN: International students only make up 4.3 percent of the total number of higher education students in the US. For the UK and Australia, this number is closer to 20 percent. Our previous research with the Institute of International Education (IIE) also shows that US universities no longer need to compete just with other English-speaking countries in attracting international students. Instead, American universities are facing competition from universities in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland where English is quickly becoming a popular instruction language. Within Europe alone, since 2011, the number of English-taught programs almost doubled, and the trend is expected to continue to grow.
From our data set, we can also see that the number of student emails receiving no reply is lower for UK than for US, but also that Australian universities have a far higher follow-up rate in their communication with prospective international students (almost 30 percent in Australia and New Zealand, in comparison to just 13 percent in the US and Canada).
Evo: Is the brand recognition of American universities enough for students to overlook the lack of effective communication or customer service?
CN: While American universities have a strong international reputation in terms of education, and repeatedly score high in international rankings, they also have some of the highest tuition rates and complex admission processes. While the number of international students looking to study in the US is likely to remain high, to compete for the best talent, US universities need to acknowledge that European and Australian universities pose a strong competition. After all, these institutions also have strong brand recognition, they offer high-quality degrees, a more international environment that may be more appealing to international students and sometimes lower tuition costs. For the students looking for an all-round study program, the brand recognition is less valuable than the quality of their education and the study experience and environment.
Evo: What are the most important changes North American universities need to make to improve their competitiveness in the international student marketplace?
CN: We believe that in order to increase their competitiveness in the international student marketplace, North American universities should first develop a stronger understanding of the communication needs of prospective international students, and to truly embrace their diversity.
A first step would be to increase the transparency of the program information, such as start dates, program duration, and accreditation. For some of our researchers, this information was particularly difficult to find. A second step would be increasing their efficiency in responding and following-up to student inquiries. International students are likely to apply to approximately 4 programs, so that universities that are quick in replying to their emails are more likely to enroll these students. It all boils down to providing the information students need to make an informed decision, but also communicating more effectively with interested students. We provide more detailed advice in the individual reports we are distributing to the universities we researched, which can help international recruiters know where their program or university can specifically improve.
Author Perspective: Business