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The Future of International Student Recruitment: Top Ways to Improve your School Marketing Strategy

Kampus24 recently sat down with David Milner, Director of Marketing & International Relations at Sedbergh School, and Stephen Mullock, Deputy Head, Ellesmere College, to get their expert insights into how independent schools reshaped their recruitment processes in reaction to Brexit and COVID.

As both David and Stephen acknowledge, many of the traditional marketing methods their schools used before Brexit and the global pandemic were no longer suitable in a world where families, agents, and school representatives could no longer travel for face-to-face meetings. Consequently, what emerged as the key focus for schools was how best to manage these challenges and how, as a result, schools have reimagined how such interactions occur. Although the shift to the digital world was sudden and fast, it was an essential element in their success and continued recruitment drives.

Transitioning to a virtual experience

Like the rest of the world, independent schools had to create new ways of marketing when travel became impossible because of lockdowns and other restrictions. Zoom and various online platforms became fundamental features of how they delivered their classes and how they sought to attract new students.

While it can be difficult to recreate a physical presence on a digital platform, it does open up the opportunity to deliver in other ways. Schools can create new experiences such as 360 virtual tours and group webinars that replicate the experience as much as possible. Schools can also use social media to share everyday events, from school activities to announcements, to further develop a sense of community beyond the school’s physical walls. For example, Sedbergh created video and photo content that they then shared with students, staff, and parents in a daily virtual newsletter. They also shared the newsletter with prospective families to encourage earlier engagement with the school and found success in converting more leads through building a sense of community from the outset.

Digital’s versatility also means that schools can use the potential of online tools to showcase their personality in a way not possible with a printed brochure. Choosing the school for your child is, after all, a huge decision, and parents strive to make the best fit. And if viewing a digital live event enables them to spend time with the school before they send their child there, it can help ensure it is the right choice for both child and school.

The move to digital also enabled schools to open up their resources for parents to assist with tasks such as choosing Year 10 and 12 subjects. It is a great way to offer parents information on what each subject involves and provide them with the opportunity to speak with the respective heads of departments and even hear from students who are taking the classes.

For Ellesmere College, it has meant that they have moved to themed taster weeks to deliver prospective families the same experience and information that meets their needs rather than a blanket open day that may not address their concerns or requirements.

Communication is key

David and Stephen both reiterated that keeping the lines of communication open is critical for both the student’s success and that of the school. For current students, both schools hosted regular video calls throughout the lockdown. Schools must be mindful that international boarding students are living with them full time, and therefore it is imperative during times of uncertainty to create consistent communications between parents and school through various platforms. For prospective families, they facilitated frequent meetings between parents and key staff, ranging from teachers, current students, or senior leaders, all with the goal of ensuring that every prospective family had the ability and access to learn more about the school.

Independent schools supporting one another 

David and Stephen were keen to highlight how much the independent school sector supported each other as every school figured out how to switch gears due to the pandemic. Schools regularly shared their knowledge and individual experiences across various platforms and networks. Very few of us had even heard of Zoom two years ago, and now it’s part of our vernacular. So although it was at first wholly foreign and there was a steep learning curve, now we are all proficient users.

And then, here in the UK, there was the added issue of Brexit- which created more hoops for international parents and schools to jump through. Again, the sector dug its heels in and worked together to continue to recruit families from all over the world.

The speed at which the independent sector adapted was impressive and how quickly schools were able to resume the business of education was remarkable.

Attracting international families

Despite the pandemic and Brexit challenges, the UK continues to draw large numbers of international students. The pastoral element of a British education continues to be a key differentiator. Schools here also adopted the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) charter, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of every student. Again the sector made adjustments to how they market globally, and the journey often takes longer. It is critical to give parents the ability to join an online lesson to get a sense of your school, a virtual tour of boarding houses, and reassure them of each measure being taken to support their son or daughter. Schools must also demonstrate what actions they carry out to encourage integration, weekend activities, and practical items such as airport collection and drop-off.

It’s important that families overseas remain connected to their son or daughter. And schools can facilitate this with parent portals that allow them to see a game their child is playing or even their attendance record if they are late to class. They can also meet the people looking after them, and this feeling part of their child’s everyday routine is key to everyone’s success no less when they are sending their child halfway across the world for their education.  

Promoting relationships with agents 

Independent schools work closely with agents, and it is vital to all parties that this relationship is nurtured and is one of honesty and transparency. Agents are on the receiving end of thousands of questions, so it is incumbent on each school to assist them with this task and provide honest and accurate answers to each question. Agents too had to react and adapt how they conducted their operations during Covid, so any digital tools that schools can share that provide prospective families insight into your school were and remain crucial.

If possible, schools should also aim to conduct training sessions online for agents to educate them about your school. Agents will respect that you’ve given your time to make their job easier.

Now that agents can visit in person again, having these digital experiences means that they have the latest and most current picture of your school. One that they can then give to prospective families, which helps both smaller agencies and even the larger ones who may have schools and agents dispersed across the globe. When working with different nationalities, it is important to understand the cultural nuances, how to address people, and offer your content in either multiple languages or subtitled at the very least. While some of these relationships may take years to build, be patient. A great way to nurture these relationships is by contributing blogs about the UK education sector.

How Kampus24 enables new international recruitment opportunities 

The list of ways Kampus24 enabled both Sedbergh School and Ellesmere College to serve families during these challenging times is impressive. But the possibilities of the platform remain so endless that for David Milner this is just the start of their usage: “We still haven’t used all the features yet, which is the exciting thing!” 

Some of the ways Sedbergh School and Ellesmere College empower their international agents through the Kampus24 platform include:

  • Building a very bespoke approach to their school for agents to share with prospective families. With the availability of video footage, webinars, student voice content, Q+A sessions, and live sessions, the schools easily created a marketing toolkit for their agents in various markets. 
  • Creating personalised experiences for each individual family through a unique Kampus24 experience. The key is to make each interaction unique and highly personal for the family.
  • Efficiently generating parent engagement data from the platform that they can use to optimise future marketing activity.
  • Using video footage of life at school shared through the Kampus24 platform, which helps to enhance communication and connectedness with prospective parents.
  • Delivering a virtual “school visit” that fits in with a parent’s schedule regardless of location and could be viewed as many times as desired or shared with family and friends.
  • Using the interactive element to give parents time for repeat “visits” and afford more opportunities for time with agents, families, and school staff to aid decision making.
  • Offering continuity of experience from the first interaction through to registration.
  • Developing targeted digital marketing campaigns to drive recruitment in particular countries with content specific to the culture or language.
  • Using the live streaming feature to offer parents a way to connect with their children and to showcase the school to prospective families.

Digital is here to stay

While the restrictions in many countries have been lifted, and there is a return of some sense of normality, albeit the war in Ukraine is threatening that, the reality is schools will continue to use technology to create and drive recruitment. While there is still very much a place for in-person open days and other such events, the flexibility and adaptability of digital tools and the Kampus24 platform mean that marketing plans will now always revolve around the digital experience.

If you’d like to find out how Kampus24 can strengthen your international recruitment strategies, book a personalised demo here.

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