In an ever increasingly competitive global student recruitment market, Atlantic Canada needed its universities and colleges to stand out. But first, they had to understand how.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), which serves as the government of Canada’s economic development agency in the region, and its industry sector group, Education and Training Formation Atlantique, came together to collaborate on student recruitment policies for Canada’s east coast.

With an ageing population and the subsequent demand to attract more international students, Atlantic Canada needed to understand the global market and how Canada’s east coast should present itself in order to improve diversity in the region and bring about a long-term positive impact to the economy.

Using a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methods, through a mixture of desk-based, primary and digital research, Natives built a picture of how the region was being perceived as an international study destination.

First, the team created and used staff stakeholder surveys to better understand the USP’s of the region at an institutional level, the current marketing activity and the stakeholder opinions on international students, as well as using government statistics research to delve deeper into the current landscape in Canada compared to key international competitor markets. Natives were also able to map out the digital landscape using their enterprise tool for social listening; who is speaking about what, where are the students, what messages would resonate and the key times for communications, along with the analysis of search data from both Google and Baidu - helping to build the marketing strategy and schedule.

Natives also conducted in-depth reviews of the current advertising, marketing promotions, communications and international messaging being used and its effectiveness, as well as reviewing the social media platforms being used and what content was being used to engage international students. The team also used website analysis to understand the audience and their needs through reviews of website traffic and mapping the user journey. Technical SEO audits were then used for each of the 18 institutions in order to make recommendations to improve organic visibility and improve the user experience.

Shaping student recruitment policies

Vast amounts of data were collated, the numbers crunched and amalgamated by the experts at Natives, who provided advice, guidance and a marketing strategy plan with specific tactics for identifying target audiences and content that would inspire and convert, as well as when and where to engage.

The insights and recommendations from the project, backed by empirical data gathered from multiple sources, will be used by universities and colleges to shape policy and programs around international student recruitment for the region.

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Article by


Megan Dillon

Content Marketing Executive