We know we don’t have to tell you twice, but Brexit is quite the headache for British institutions that rely significantly on international students. Not to mention Covid and the disruption to international travel; it’s been a tough couple of years. Uncertainty, visa implications, and question marks around policy have made for a stressful and confusing period for both universities and students alike.

While EU students are still considering the UK for higher education (if you address their worries in an impactful way), and the numbers haven't dropped off the map yet (as some may have feared), it is always sensible to diversify your activity. And so, where you might be seeing an EU-student deficit, there are moves you can make in new markets that can help you succeed in these tricky times. 

The UK is still a hot contender for international students globally, following closely behind the US, so there are tonnes of opportunity if you know what to do, and where to look for it.

Where are the growth markets

First up, India. With the introduction of a new Mobility and Migration partnership between the UK and Indian governments, India is only growing in significance in the international education space, with a 36% increase in Indian students studying in the UK. 

As well as the front runner, of course: China. We’ve seen a 20% increase in Chinese applicants in the UK, and that’s set to continue growing. 

Other leading markets include the United States, Nigeria, Malaysia and Hong Kong. 

 

So how do you attract these students to your institution?

Understand the key platforms in these markets

The behaviour and habits of your domestic students are not always what your prospective international students will follow. While targeting British students on the likes of Instagram and Snapchat may work wonders, consider the realities of aspiring students in places such as India. 

Access to fast broadband and other digital technologies is more limited than in the UK, and that means you may need to consider other channels in order to reach all relevant audiences. The Times of India, for example, is a respected publication with a strong readership that can open up access to prospective postgraduate students, or parents of prospective undergraduates. 

Looking to the online world, India is the second largest market for Quora behind the US, so have you considered this platform to stand out in a location where brand recall is probably low?

If we turn to China, studies show that Chinese students proactively search for information about universities’ Chinese communities and activities during their decision-making journey. They believe these things reflect how seriously the university takes them. Which ultimately defines how they feel about your institution and brand. 

Through using native platforms such as WeChat, Weibo and Douyin (Chinese TikTok) you can connect to them in a natural and authentic way, showing Chinese students that they are a welcome, valued addition to your campus.

On that note, have you met the YouTube for Chinese Gen Z-ers yet?

Now let’s turn to your actual message

But getting your ads and brand in front of prospective international students is only step one. If you’re communicating in an irrelevant, or worse, offensive way, it really won’t matter if you’ve chosen the correct platform. You’ve lost them. 

So you must consider the cultural context and what is happening in the world. For example, Messenger is heavily used in India. However, your tone of voice must not jar with users’ state of mind, so be sensitive to what is happening in the market at the time you are running your campaigns.

More seriously, consider the painful realities that prospective Chinese students can face when travelling internationally and relocating in the UK, amidst Covid-19. Anti-Chinese hate speech on Twitter jumped by 900% in response to the pandemic last year, and while you may think this is ‘old news’, it might not feel like it to Chinese students. Does your message put minds at ease? Does it signpost the efforts you’ve made to protect Chinese students from any sort of racism or aggression? They won’t be interested in your graduate-to-employment rate, if they are worried for their safety. 

You can help to make Chinese students feel more welcome and included on your campus by making it a ‘safe space’, separate from the general political background. Celebrate Chinese New Year and promote China-related cultural events as the norm to make Chinese students an integral part of your institution. 

This can also create a strong sense of community, bringing all students together and giving them the chance to meet new people and learn about different cultures, once they get on campus.

The benefit of international students isn’t just about enrolment figures and the bottom line. They’re vital in creating the UK’s future thinkers and shaping our global contribution, while creating a diverse and rich society and campus. 

Let’s work together to get your institution in the right places, in the right markets, saying the right things. We’re all better off with the UK being a leading international educational destination. Get in touch today.

Article by

Eleana Davidson Native Author

Eleana Davidson

Senior Marketing Executive