Recruiting Internationally: Which Country is Next?Maureen MacDonald | Dean of Continuing Studies, University of Victoria
A good investment portfolio typically demonstrates diversification. When we think about bringing international students to our campuses we also seek to have diversification. This is prudent pedagogically but is also a good business decision. Putting all your eggs in one basket—or having students from only a couple of countries in your programs or on your campus—can make an institution vulnerable if something occurs in those select countries. This is all great in theory. The question remains as to which countries you might market to so you get the best “bang for your marketing buck.”
When the English Language Centre at my west coast Canadian institution considers which new countries we might choose to consider for recruitment we look to a number of criteria to guide our decision making. Some of these factors are entirely beyond our control; others are things we may be able to influence. We have also loosely weighted each of these broad categories to give us direction on the locations that would warrant an investment of our time, money and effort.
However, to be clear, at the outset you need to solidly identify your goals and objectives in considering a new target market. Your decisions may differ if you are seeking to diversify your student base than if you are solely looking for a financial windfall.
We have identified five criteria that guide our decision making:
1. Visa Availability/ Government Assistance
This factor considers the ease of citizens of the target country to obtain visas – the cost, application process, whether the visa processing centre is in the country, visa processing times, ability to transfer money out of the country (to pay for courses), embassy support and the visa application refusal rate in that country.
2. Market Potential
A country’s IELP market potential includes aspects such as market demographics, economic factors for the targeted demographic group, the need for English in that country (English proficiency index score), interest in studying abroad, whether we have knowledge or experience in that country and whether the market potential aligns with gaps in our own programming.
3. Agent and/or University Partnerships
This factor examines whether there are established or promising partners in the country – perhaps agents or universities – and the quality of those relationships. It also considers whether the agent commissions are affordable and whether there is a university system that complements our own capabilities.
4. Competitive Environment
This factor includes things like, is there brand awareness of our country or our city in the target country and whether our country/city/institution has a competitive advantage relative to others marketing in that country. It can also include whether there is another potential destination for students much closer to their country and whether our investment compares favorably with our competitors. Within this factor we also consider our ability to work with our broader institution for joint recruitment initiatives.
5. Other/ Market Support
This final factor (which we don’t weight but we certainly discuss) considers aspects that will make marketing more efficient but are not necessarily “deal breakers” to marketing. These factors include proximity to existing markets, travel logistics (cost, safety, affordability), alumni presence or accessibility to resource personnel within the country.
Choosing Your Market
Each of these broad categories can warrant a great deal of discussion and investigation. In other institutions and in other countries the criteria may be different. It will depend somewhat on your goals and objectives. The specific weight that a particular institution may attach to each of these factors can vary depending on institutional strengths, location and resources. It can also vary depending on your program and your institutional goals.
Using the criteria such as the five noted above, however, provide a starting point and a common set of factors through which all potential markets can be vetted. Within our English Language Centre these criteria serve to provide a common language for us to engage in these discussions and a common metric to make our marketing investment decisions.
The decisions can still be challenging. The directions you pursue are guided by your own priorities, budgets and other resources. Nonetheless, a few basic criteria can serve to support your decision-making processes related to entering a new market.