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Sustainable international recruitment: what does success look like?

UK universities and higher education institutions are re-examining their recruitment strategies and models, with a focus on long-term sustainability and the need to diversify international student recruitment.

This major blog series, ‘Strategies for sustainability: diversifying international student recruitment’, focuses on a range of factors that institutions need to consider as they reshape their strategies and recruitment programmes – sustainability in finance, environmental impact, progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and institutions’ values overall.

The series covers: what data tells us about the rising importance of South Asia and West Africa to UK admissions departments; insights into other emerging international markets; the value of engaging with a broader range of students’ prior learning experiences and pathways; sustainable values and societal impact; English language proficiency; environmental sustainability; sustainable presence and practice; and the bigger picture including how success can be measured.

The final article in the series considers how institutions can evaluate the impact of a sustainable international recruitment strategy and what success looks like in this context.

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In this series of articles we have looked at different aspects of sustainability and how these relate to international student recruitment and partnerships.

We have examined how markets are evolving in response to geopolitical developments, and how strategies and models for student recruitment also need to adapt to address global challenges and embrace new opportunities.

An important part of this is re-examining definitions of success and finding effective ways to measure progress.

The bigger picture

The concept of sustainability encompasses a wide range of different considerations which are often interlinked.

Building and maintaining recruitment networks and diversifying into new markets is key to ensuring financial sustainability. This objective is also closely linked to institutional values and social impact, and has implications for targets to reduce carbon emissions, the student journey and international partnerships.

In previous articles relating to integrating sustainable values and climate action, we examined how a holistic approach is needed to address these challenges. Approaches to international student recruitment, student mobility and overseas travel need to reflect commitments to act on climate change, as well as addressing issues of equality, diversity and inclusion, and social and economic justice.

Beyond the headline figures

Sustaining or increasing numbers of international students is a key measurable outcome of an international student recruitment strategy, but there is a need to re-examine the models and approaches that will enable this to be achieved.

Some markets continue to generate very high numbers of applications, which can present a challenge for admissions processes.

Maintaining an established in-country presence can support the development of strong recruitment networks for the long term, as well as alleviating the strain on admissions teams.

The uncertainty around other markets, particularly China, and increased competition as other destination countries fully reopen, mean that diversification in recruitment is a priority for many institutions.

Measures of success could relate to increased recruitment from a specific region, or expansion of the number of different markets contributing to the student body overall.

International student experience

It is increasingly important to students to see that institutions are engaged with the student journey from the pre-application stage through to post-graduation. Improving the student experience requires a cohesive, holistic strategy, and is closely linked to other aspects of sustainable practice.

Student experience is a key consideration for international student recruitment strategy; building lasting relationships with students and alumni can contribute to strong recruitment networks.

The link between international student experience and sustainable values is highlighted in one of the key principles of the #WeAreInternational Student Charter:

Updated metrics

Measuring contributions towards sustainable values and positive societal impact can be a challenge. Many aspects are not easy to capture within existing metrics so may require a different approach.

In recent years, a number of new rankings have emerged with a focus on sustainable development and impact:

Beyond traditional and sustainability-focused league tables, universities can use a range of other measures, including soft and qualitative key performance indicators (KPIs), to measure the impact of their activities.

What does success look like for your institution?

Metrics need to reflect each institution’s distinctiveness and specific strategic objectives.

To diversify student recruitment, universities are exploring a range of new and emerging markets. This opens up opportunities to explore what they can offer for students in a particular country or region, and differentiate themselves from other institutions.

Many institutions are re-examining their TNE partnerships in order to focus on fewer, more strategic and holistic partnerships which add lasting value and align with institutional values.

Support for sustainable recruitment strategies

Ecctis is developing new services to help our members devise and implement new, sustainable, diversified recruitment strategies.

Our partnership with SJRennie Consulting Ltd and AfaraEd enables UK institutions to work with us to develop solutions, as highlighted by the case study below.

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK

Recruitment staff at The University of Strathclyde engaged with SJR Consulting having noticed a decline in the university’s West Africa numbers, and having heard about their work and reputation in that market.

‘After a simple briefing process, SJR Consulting came onto campus for a comprehensive two-day workshop to fully understand how our university operated,’ says Rachel MacSween, Head of Recruitment and International.

‘This covered a range of university functions, from finance and admissions, through to marketing and recruitment across both faculty and central teams.

‘This approach has enabled recommendations and suggestions to be appropriate to us, our systems and processes and our university values.’

Read more:

You may be interested in reading the other articles in this blog series, and you can do so using these links:

What data tells us about the rising importance of South Asia and West Africa to UK admissions departments

What analysis of our data can tell UK higher education institutions about other emerging international markets

The value of engaging with a broader range of students’ prior learning experiences and pathways

Sustainable values and societal impact

The role of English language learning in a sustainable international recruitment strategy

A greener future: environmental sustainability and international student recruitment

International recruitment strategy : the need for sustainable presence and practice

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