How to Recruit International Students


Stamats 2020

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No, there is no typo in the headline of this article. I believe that because of the referendum in the UK and the election results in the US, many international students will walk away from both countries and consider others, like Australia, Canada, and China for their undergraduate and graduate educations. Already there are signs that Indian students, looking for stability and a pathway to employment after graduation, are seeking alternatives to studying in the UK and US.

In his most recent book, Thank You for Being Late, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman quotes Lin Wells, who teaches strategy at the National Defense University and who describes three ways of looking at problems: inside the box, outside the box, and thinking without a box.

This article is my attempt to look at future international student recruiting without a box. My recommendation begins with a call to international college and university deans and recruiters to begin now to strategically plan for recruiting international students.

The following suggestions may help:

Research new opportunities.

Read everything you can on the geopolitical and economic changes taking place around the world because, sooner or later, these changes will impact international student mobility. My research includes reading The Economist, Ian Bremmer’s column in Time magazine, The Financial Times, and the New York Times. I also recommend reading The Australian Financial Review, Khaleej Times, The Times of India, China Post, Toronto Globe and Mail, Japan Times, and China Daily.

After reading, connect the dots. What did you learn that could be applied to your planning for next year’s recruiting program? For example, how will China’s geostrategic plans to challenge US leadership in the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia impact your school’s future recruiting in that part of the world? Beijing’s footprint in the region is growing fast. A more assertive China, Russia, and Iran stand in stark contrast to the inward looking politics of Europe and the US. America has become the single biggest source of international uncertainty and ambivalence, and that includes international student enrollment regulations.

What impact will the one billion mobile phone users in Africa have on your school’s online recruiting practices?

In the Middle East, the influence and rise of Iran and the political and economic uncertainty in Saudi Arabia will certainly change where you recruit in the region.

Review all your current articulation agreements and affiliations.

Can you strengthen these agreements? Two plus two programs? Combined degrees? Study abroad and summer programs? Online collaboration? Take a fresh look at the international partners you already have.

Meet with faculty with international contacts.

Are there international faculty contacts that could be explored for potential collaboration? Many professors attend international conferences. Can you provide them with information so they can begin a dialogue with their colleagues?

Be selective.

Based on your research, select two or three new countries for recruitment. I am a big believer in using big data and predictive analytics to guide strategic decisions. But I also believe in the value of getting information from real people. Send a recruiter to explore the possibilities in the new recruiting countries before making a financial commitment.

Be flexible.

An agile and open mind, married with a pragmatic approach to international student recruitment, based on research, should be the cornerstone of all future international recruiting plans. Being ready to move on a dime and change your college or university’s strategic international plan requires an openness to a new way of thinking. Often this means a culture change from the way your school previously recruited international students to being ready to first recognize new recruitment opportunities and then implement effective and efficient changes to your school’s benefit.

This is not the time to rehearse a new way of thinking. In many colleges and universities traditional recruiting is often a management tool, not a tool for understanding the changing new world order that will influence politics, economics, and student mobility. The tranquilizing drug of last year’s enrollment statistics will have no relevance in the future.

Change permeates nearly every facet of life. The dark alchemy of disruption and unpredictability in international student recruiting demands a new way of thinking and planning.

The landscape and legacy of thinking without a box may serve you well. So think without a box and see what happens.

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