Marketing August 14, 2012 Last updated September 18th, 2018 1,012 Reads share

How Can Third Level Institutions Best Leverage Social Business For International Student Recruitment?

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How can Colleges and Universities in Ireland attract International Students, thereby bringing a much needed income into Ireland?  In a report just published by the

Why has the Ahain Group undertaken this report at this time?

Social Business is exerting an ever-increasing influence on all sectors of business world wide. We were keen to understand how Social Business would influence Education – an important sector within which the vast majority of the user community are students in their late teens to mid-twenties, the ‘Y Generation’, who embrace and make use of social media extensively, every day.

  • How could Social Business influence their choice of institution for their third level education?
  • How could Social Business influence their choice of country if they were considering an international education?

And how could the HEI’s maintain or increase their International Student population against the backdrop of the evolving Social Business model and a fiercely competitive market. Plus compete successfully for the large fees that flow from the International student cohort.

These fees are crucial to maintenance of services and course quality, particularly in the ongoing recession in Ireland and cuts in public sector allocations, which is impacting negatively on all sectors of Education in Ireland.

This report does not comment on traditional recruitment methods currently being used and the great work being done by recruiters to bring nearly 26,000 International students to Ireland annually at present. This international cohort brings over €428million to the Irish economy every year, made up as follows:-

Fees €192 million

Cost of living expenses €236 million

Total €428 million

Total per student averages €16,543*

* These figures were taken from the “Education Ireland Report 2009/10” – a link to which can be found on the report. These figures do not include discretionary spending, which would increase the overall figure to the economy.

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The Social Business Recruitment Model

The Ahain Group’s findings, set out in the report, show that the change of tactics by the North American education institutes, away from the traditional recruitment methods to the online space embracing the online Social Business model, is yielding dramatic results.

Unless comparable strategies are deployed by HEI’s, this could lead to losses in the market share currently achieved by the HEI’s as this new model finds its way across the Atlantic Ocean and is adopted by the sector in the UK, Italy and other European countries.

“Progressive colleges in the U.S., like Johns Hopkins, are reaching out to engage with their applicants on Facebook and Twitter, finding that a robust social media campaign, together with innovative features such as student-run blogs, can lure prospective students while a stale online presence can turn them off.

A recent study by the Center for Marketing Research8, at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth found that in the USA

  • 100% of universities surveyed use social media to communicate with students – this figure is up from 61% in 2007-08.
  • 98% of the responding colleges have a Facebook page
  • 84% have a Twitter account.

Social Media is now very important to students when analysing the merits of a college and location, allowing them to get a sense of what life is really like on campus. The colleges’ ‘consumer’ website now provides a ranking system for U.S. colleges.” *

* Excerpt from the Ahain Group Report.

The research also brings to light the understanding that the North American institutions have come to, that online peer-to-peer marketing brings results. In some cases, the colleges have put their senior student cohort in charge of responding to all enquiries online from prospective students, including International students. One US College has even started a separate Facebook page to help the International students to ask relevant questions and deal with their obvious worries about moving from one country to another to complete their studies.

Oregon State University, for example, has adopted a very student-led strategy which has yielded 43% growth in its International student numbers over a 4 year period. Two of their main tactics are to provide:

  • live video chats between prospective students and student leaders
  • student orientation leadership and mentor programmes when the new student arrives on campus

These two tactics are part of a much bigger programme which allows the International student to engage their peers prior to arrival and to gain an understanding of the workings of their new home from home. Social platforms allow this in a way never before experienced by travelling students.

Tactics such as these make the approach of Irish HEI’s (with the exception of Trinity College) seem very ineffectual. They do not appear to have any underlying, coherent strategies, other than to have all the social media channels covered – this in itself is a very bad strategy! In the comprehensive list set out in the Ahain Group White Paper, it is obvious that there are cases where some institutions have no Facebook page or no Twitter account.

In today’s world this will inevitably, and rapidly, work to the significant detriment of the Institutions concerned.

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When you compare the North American HEI online recruitment strategies and the existing Irish online strategies, the differences are stark. A re-evaluation of the Irish model is urgently needed if Irish HEI’s are to retain, if not improve, their student-recruitment edge in the international student marketplace leading to the loss of a valuable source of income for the HEI’s. The outcome of this could be:-

  • reduced course choice
  • reduced number of modules on the remaining courses
  • increased pupil/lecturer ratios

The findings of this report suggest that, while Irish HEI’s are significantly lagging behind the U.S. and other HE sectors, they need not be. They have the ability to correct the situation. It would not require major resources or budgets but will take a change of mind-set and a healthy injection of innovation and internal collaboration. This can be achieved in a very short time frame.

Currently Ireland welcomes some 26,000 international students yearly – with the correct Social Business strategy deployed, this figure could grow to 38,000 in four years if it followed a similar growth pattern (43%) to that of the Oregon State University.

With all due respects to Oregon, it’s no Ireland….. we have the history, culture and excellent academic institutions. All the HEI’s need is a Social Business Strategy for International Student Recruitment.

The full report can be located on the home page of our website Please direct any questions on this post in the comments section below or email me at

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John Twohig

John Twohig

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