Internationalisation for universities is no longer just a question of how many international students you can recruit. The cultural value of working alongside people from across the world goes much deeper. But when you’re thinking about how to really connect with potential students, showing them why and how you care is critical to making a meaningful connection, says Paul Gentle.
The days are long gone when universities’ international strategies were driven by a naked ambition to recruit as many ‘full-cost overseas’ students as possible. The allure of premium fees is no longer quite as dazzling by comparison with home and EU fees, at least in English higher education institutions. Nor are students coming from overseas likely to be attracted to universities which regard them primarily as sources of income.
Nevertheless, reading what are often referred to today as Internationalisation strategies, it’s clear that there are still good reasons for wanting to recruit students from beyond the UK. These now focus on the benefits for everyone in our universities of belonging to more diverse, intercultural communities. We can enable our graduates to develop the attributes of global citizenship more readily if they work as a matter of course alongside peers who are different from us. Meeting people from different places, who bring with them other mindsets and unfamiliar languages, contributes to creating a rich and diverse learning experience for everyone, students and staff collectively.
If we are to tap into the educational and cultural gains from internationalisation, how we build relationships with potential students from other countries is crucial. There’s also the who, the what and the why in communicating to recruit international students, and we ignore these at our peril.
Let’s think these questions through from a student’s perspective.
Knowing that the university you’re applying to is genuinely interested in engaging with you makes all the difference. Hearing this from the academics who’ll be teaching you, not only the corporate brand voice, helps to make personal connections with people who you expect to guide and inspire you.
One of the biggest challenges in your life so far is likely to be moving to the United Kingdom to study. You’ve heard plenty about tightening immigration policy and rising nationalism in this distant country, so what reassurance does your university give you that they empathise with your concerns and your needs?
You’re aware too that approaches to studying in the UK are demanding, and you need to know what the university will do to integrate you into their campus community.
While it’s important that you enter a university which offers the best course for you and of the highest quality, you want something else, too. You’re seeking a university with values which complement your own. You’re hoping for a lifelong partnership with an institution that you’ll feel proud to belong to, and you expect them to tell you how their lecturers and professional staff will create this partnership with you.
The worldwide trend towards expectations of greater empathy and warmth extends to our students at home too. My youngest son’s recent move to begin a degree in Denmark was triggered not only by a fee-free system which teaches in English and attracts students in even greater swathes from all over the world. Another significant factor was that he was unconvinced by the free gifts, birthday messages and barrage of emails that came to him from UK institutions all too keen to sign him up to a 3-year contract. Ultimately, they missed an opportunity to show him why and how they care.