Recruitment of international students, a key source of funds for most institutions, is also affected, with staff facing difficulties with travel to source markets and students and families unable to visit campus open days. This jeopardises not only the enrollment for the current year, but also the pipeline of students for future years.
So, how can institutions continue to market effectively if they cannot travel?
77% of international students responding to QS’s International Student Survey in 2019 said that the most useful source of information for them when researching an institution abroad was the school’s website. This is especially true when recruiters and students are not able to travel.
Ensure that up-to-date advice regarding Covid-19, such as extended deadlines, changes to cancellation policies or new enrolment dates, as well as precautions already being taken within your institution, are easy to find.
But don’t forget students nearer the top of the enrolment funnel, i.e. those that are thinking about studying with you in one or two years time, or perhaps longer. Key considerations for international students today are employment outcomes, cost of living and accommodation information, and student testimonials and reviews, regarding everything from what it’s like to study at a foreign university to teaching quality.
The same 2019 QS survey reported that 85% of students use social media when researching their study abroad choices, and found that the range of platforms that students were using had expanded, with YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn increasing in importance. The 2020 survey will likely find that TikTok is an increasingly important part of the mix as well.
This implies that students are often looking on social media for a general sense of whether a school is the right fit for them. They want to see examples of happy students, vibrant campuses, social activities and modern accommodation.
Trinity Western University, in Canada, is offering virtual tours as Covid-19 threatens its annual Spring open day. “We are making lemonade out of lemons,” said Scott Fehrenbacher, senior vice-president of external relations for Trinity Western University (TWU).
But VR doesn’t necessarily mean students need dedicated headsets. Well produced VR experiences can be accessed via mobile phones, school websites and social media such as Facebook and YouTube. Additionally, an increasing number of student recruitment agencies are installing VR headsets in their stores so that students can enjoy the optimum experience.
When properly produced, VR experiences should give students a sense of the atmosphere at a school, for instance by capturing 360° video of classes and social spaces. But VR should also enable a deeper dive into specific facilities or learning outcomes by offering viewers the opportunity to interact with certain people, places or objects to trigger more detailed content.
The United States Commercial Service offers Virtual Reality Education Fairs where student recruitment agents and high-school counsellors are invited to U.S embassies where they can use Oculus Go VR goggles to view 2-3 minute 360° videos.