Lessons from Asia: a new approach to international student recruitment

Whatever the outcome of Brexit and Augar, the burden will fall upon international student recruitment to fill what will be a significant higher education funding gap.

Conveniently, the government’s recent international strategy targets an increase in international students studying in the UK from 460,000 to 600,000.

More of the same will not do

How are we to achieve this 23 per cent increase with the same, if not, less availability of resources and additional funding challenges for the sector?

The 600,000 target will not be achieved if the UK goes to market with the same old messages of reputation, rankings and student experience. In what is an increasingly competitive market for higher education, students from outside the UK repeatedly highlight that they care most about their graduate outcomes on the international stage.

Insights from Asia

An education from a UK higher education institution adds tremendous value to those that are fortunate to benefit from it. Data collected by the Asia Careers Group from over the last three years, comprising of over 40,000 graduate data points of individuals who have returned to Asia would support this. Graduates from UK universities are highly employable, have a bright future ahead of them, with higher than average earnings and fast career progression in their chosen field.

Whie the employability rates are significantly lower than the domestic outcomes published by the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education, the majority are in “graduate level positions” following their studies.

Graduates of UK universities who have returned to Asia not only get jobs, but they get “great jobs” with the world’s leading employers. Those graduating with a UK degree earn significantly over average incomes in the countries to which they return.

In addition to collecting data on graduate outcomes, Asia Careers Group continues to track the career progression of UK graduates to gauge the return on investment of a UK degree over the lifetime of a UK graduate. This provides a far richer data set than a ‘snapshot’ of graduates at 15 months post-study.

We learn from this that Asian students are far more likely to move jobs frequently within their early careers and there is huge competition for graduates with the right skills in these fast growing economies. We also find that the career and income trajectories of UK graduates are incredibly positive and that they deliver a significant “soft power” advantage to UK trade and Investment.

Change interventions

Action five within the International Education Strategy states that: “the UK government will …identify and share good practice in how universities effectively support international students into employment … when they return to their home nation. We will also work with the sector to enhance the evidence base on international graduate outcomes and to monitor the UK’s comparative position with respect to international student recruitment and the international student experience.” But how does the sector set out to achieve this?

Careers and employability services have historically had a UK remit with no key performance indicators or incentives to look beyond the UK. They are significantly under resourced and few have a dedicated team focusing on International student outcomes.

Efforts have been made in the last five years to engage with Chinese employers and provide specific careers advice for Chinese students. With that exception, Asia Careers Group data shows there is little if any meaningful employer engagement with Asian employers. It is only by linking employability to international student recruitment that we will see a shift on the current numbers of international students. I propose that we achieve this shift by creating international outcome departments (IODs)

This would be an interdisciplinary team of three or four staff, made up of personnel from the following departments within each University:

  • International office – typically within the global engagement office
  • International careers counselling
  • International employer engagement
  • International alumni

The IOD will provide insight into how essential graduate outcomes are to increase both international student recruitment and advancement (alumni engagement and giving) and make international careers KPIs more tangible and target driven.

The activity of the IOD should be data driven, focused on the areas that can make the most impact on improving graduate outcomes. Accurate, robust, longitudinal international graduate outcomes data will highlight the most likely areas of successful engagement and activity. Asia Careers Group data allows institutions to map international graduate employability and benchmark against peers. Institutions should be resourced and actively encouraged to take advantage of the tools available to them.

The IOD will inform marketing and recruitment messaging overseas allowing the UK to differentiate its offer in what is an increasingly crowded marketplace, all international messaging should include an “outcomes component.”

The good news for vice-chancellors and all those with a stake in UK international student recruitment, is that there is a big world out there from which to recruit and a growing appetite for international education. We can further capitalise on this if institutions start to use the international graduate outcomes data available to them and the UK gets the messaging right. The UK has a great story to tell.

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