Strategies and Opportunities of recruitment during the Pandemic.
During the pandemic, everyone in the international education market – especially the institutions – was concerned about the impact travel restrictions would inflict in the recruitment of international students. Besides the impossibility of determining if an international student could enter the country, the institutions had to rely a lot on the agencies that represent them across the world in their marketing efforts.
NM International Education, with our solid reputation for the past 20 years, has been invited several times by important market players to talk, discuss, explain ways of recruiting during the pandemic and to present strategies of promotion during this special moment. Together with other agencies in Latin America, we represented Brazil in two sessions organized by the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC – https://www.airc-education.org/ ), the first one in partnership with BONARD (https://bonard.com/), co-presenting with Santuza Bicalho – Managing Director in which the topic of discussion was “Planning your post-COVID recruitment in Latam?”
The second one, we were invited by Cythia Garcia Moreno, Regional Director- International Business Development of our partner institution: Full Sail University (https://www.fullsail.edu/ ), to talk about “How to adapt Agency Partnerships for the New Recruiting Climate” and opportunities of recruitment during the pandemic. This took place during the AIRC conference and more than 123 market players attended. the webinar.
Lastly, we recorded an episode for the ICEF Exchange Podcast, https://www.icef.com/exchange/ , and we were very honored by this invitation from Karin Florez and Stephanie Zimmermann to talk about the impacts of the second wave of the pandemic and the expansion of roles that agencies are taking over.
From these 3 presentations and several other meetings held with our main partners we have gathered the main topics and listed them below. Our goal is to support other agencies and organizations in their recruitment efforts and to open up the discussion for new insights and opportunities to everyone.
Expectations for 2021
It’s been a lackluster year so far, but sales are starting to pick up, due to some study options in Europe and UK as well as the opportunity to start studies online in Canada. Most agencies reached their lowest activity on Q2 and Q3 of 2020, but we are pretty sure that if there is a vaccine soon, it will boost the sales 2021 – and the great expectation is for the Fall 2021. Most students who were ready to start their program abroad in Fall 2020, decided to or were forced to postpone their start date to Winter or Spring 2021.
As many countries are still not open to international students for in-person classes, many students are waiting to have a better understanding of the scenario in order to make up their minds if they will go abroad this Spring or if they will postpone their program to the Summer or even Fall 2021.
Is there any product/service pulling bookings up again?
We expect to see more offerings of hybrid courses, i.e, starting online and then moving to oncampus. The products pulling bookings up again are: long term planning consultancies and full degrees – Bachelor & Masters. In our case we believe that the products that will lead the recovery are the long-lasting ones, like High-School, Bachelor & Master. The potential students for short-term language courses were very strongly affected by the pandemic. We don’t foresee them investing in studying abroad, mainly because of the exchange rate devaluation.
Regarding destinations, UK & Europe are leading the bookings because they are “open” for the time being, as well as Canada with the possibility of starting online and finishing oncampus with no disruption of the PGWP opportunity.
Entry restrictions are linked to pandemic control and this can be seen worldwide. Thus we believe that the countries which cope better with the pandemic, will have their restrictions of entry into the country relieved sooner.
Which countries may lead to a recovery of recruitment after the pandemic?
Canada had a very generous and flexible attitude concerning international students, allowing them to start online and then moving in-person as soon as possible, without harming the benefits and possibilities of the PGWP.
Some European countries as well as the UK are also gradually allowing the entry of international students.
Australia and New Zealand, which did a great job in dealing with the pandemic, still have entry restrictions in place. It is important to highlight that these 2 countries offered financial support to students who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Communication and assistance to students during the pandemic.
The key words now are transparency and accurate and updated information. This means the oftner we inform the families about their options, the immigration issues, the opening or closing of the embassies and consulates, the health measures of each country, the more they will trust us and rely on us. This is the best we can do to assist our students right now.
The expanded role as an agent when working with students and their parents.
Besides being an academic consultant, we are right now playing a significant role in designing a viable strategy in order to meet students’ and parents’ expectations in a realistic way. We have to provide reliable information. For this purpose, we are constantly calling the embassies, airlines, the airports and the immigration services about travel restrictions in each country, the educational institutions about security measures as well as finding creative ways to “make it happen”. For example: right now Brazilians can’t fly directly to the USA. So we looked for a provider in Mexico who was able to accommodate our students during the quarantine period, before they could fly from there to the USA. This goes beyond a “counselor” role.
The role of educator partners to support agencies, parents and students.
Our Educators partners have done a great job so far, trying all the time to keep us updated on the news and safety measures of their institutions through webinars and one-to-one meetings, besides being available for Lives on Social Media in order to promote their programs.
Many of them listened to our challenges and developed a better price strategy, in offering a slight lower tuition for online classes (as students would not be getting the whole “study abroad experience”) and then transitioning back to the “normal” price structure once they are back on campus.
However the most important support we got was related to the commitment of refund in case of course cancellations or impossibility of entering the country as well as flexibility with the deadline and no extra cost for postponing the start date.
Looking into the future: how to work with your partners to ensure you can relieve the stress and concerns of students?
We expect growing numbers in 2021 due to repressed demand. So the agencies have 2 tasks: a) of keeping in contact with all their potential students and b) maintaining their staff motivated and trained.
On the other hand, the educational institutions have to go during this time the extra mile to ensure they remain top of mind among the students. Thus – as soon as the borders are open – the students would already know where they would like to apply. The year of 2020 offered us a great opportunity to develop and enhance an existing online and digital marketing strategy and awareness. We supported many of our partners through our sister company Native Marketers (https://nativemarketers.com.br/) in expanding their brand in Brazil.
We believe that flexible dates, waive of cancellation fees and offer deferrals would help the recovery and we have seen these efforts from some schools but not all of them. The institutions which saw this flexibility as a competitive advantage in order to be present and active in the education market, are able now to maintain their international recruitment active and growing, even during the pandemic.
What is the most important factor to consider right now when a student wishes to plan a study abroad experience?
100% availability of the program. Our students are very demanding and the investment of studying abroad is considerably high, mainly because of the exchange rate devaluation.
As soon as we have counselled our students on the best program match for him, then we move on to more technical issues, like travel, visa, safety and so on. Obviously we always have to take these into consideration when starting the planning.
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