Aren’t you tired of the same one-sided representation of studying abroad we’ve been seeing for so many years? International education is always described in such a polished way, perfectly visualized in all those brochures where diverse groups of happy young people study peacefully in a park, laughing and playing the guitar for no reason whatsoever.
Studying abroad is a definitely a life-changing experience. And, as with everything else in life, it’s all about finding a balance between the positive and negative sides. However, if we avoid talking about the darker topics in international student mobility, then nobody wins for sure.
That is why today we would like to stir the pot a bit and open a discussion about one of the foundations of international education: recruitment.
We see 3 key problems with the current process of international student recruitment, namely:
International students are seen as a source of revenue, not as contributors to the community
The situation in different countries varies, but the tendency is the same: the less governmental investment is out there for higher education, the more universities seek to obtain funds through recruitment of international students.
It is simple math – international students usually spend more on their tuition, creating a big influx of money to local economies. They also spend a lot on a variety of related services such as accommodation or other basic daily needs (food, leisure, transportaton).
With this kind of mindset, the quality of recruitment decreases. Universities focus solely on getting more students enrolling. This in turn opens a door for cases where international students don’t meet local language requirements. University recruitment staff are unable to carry out proper follow up interviews. Nor can they offer in-depth background checks. Study agents focus on the sheer number of students (or sourcing countries) instead of providing proper consulting to match the right student with the right university.
International students are seen as checkboxes, not as individuals
Following strict national requirements or working towards a country-specific education goal creates conditions for seeing international students not as the valuable asset they are, but rather, as a mere diversity indicator. A female from a small country and ethnic minority group who wants to study in STEM? Well isn’t that a jackpot – checking 3 diversity boxes at once!
Filling in strategic plans to meet target results does not equal providing an open environment for a truly diverse student body. Shouldn’t it go other way around? Culture on campus should be so welcoming and catering for students’ needs that you only need to maintain the status quo, not try to artificially boost the numbers.
International students are just like local students, only speaking a different language
Another common misconception during recruitment concerns the needs of international students. If international students are a mere source of revenue or diversity indicator, how can you properly address their in-depth needs?
Local students’ problems are mostly about dealing with adulthood, washing their own dishes and waking up on time. International students, on the other hand, experience culture shock and have difficulties speaking the hosting country’s language. Even in the case of English, all the different accents can be overwhelming! They also have different expectations. Turning their lives around, travelling to another country and paying a tuition 3 times higher than that local students pay means they seek real value for their money.
Understanding the political, cultural or social context of the country is a process that takes time. If this process starts after international students have set their feet on campus, it could already be too late. Providing support and personalised consultation before and during recruitment is an example of good practice. We wish that this good practice soon becomes the norm!
Now, a few questions we ask ourselves and suggest that you think about as well:
- Are the tools we use helping us improve the recruitment process? Is it focused on finding a perfect match between the university and a student?
- What kind of information should we provide for international students prior recruitment?
- What kind of methods should we use to ensure that international students have proper knowledge about the university, its community and culture?
Would you agree with this? How does your university deal with these issues? Do you have any good practice models for improved recruitment process?