Trends and results of the 2021 recruiting campaign
How can we describe the results of the 2021 admission campaign?

Recruiting international students has never been as easy and affordable as it is today. The last year was a tumultuous one, but now, the year 2021 is quite stable. The aggressive external environment has defined the limits of what is possible for all players and set new requirements for them. We cannot hold traditional expos, but there's an opportunity to participate in online presentations. Standard printing materials now have no value, but instead of them, let's learn how to make high-quality digital content. We don't have an opportunity to hold summer schools and face-to-face meetings with school graduates, but now it's time to promote social networks.

In my opinion, the current situation has made it as easy as possible for universities to attract foreign students. There are easy to use promotion tools; the first experience of using them has been gained: competition between universities is moving into the field of developing internal resources and improving the effectiveness of interactions with applicants from the beginning. If we speak about marketing educational services, today there is a demand not for the forms originality and ways of presenting information, but for high skills in using existing digital tools. Universities should realize this and strengthen their respective positions in their teams.

To what extent were universities ready for such changes?

It is quite inappropriate to talk about being ready for extreme changes in such conditions. It is better to discuss the reaction of universities to these changes. I can say with absolute certainty that every university showed t he reaction, and, in general, it is binary: some universities plunged into making changes, deploying unprecedented activity in social networks, while others hid until better times, relying only on "word of mouth", which had to help survive the time of change. It seems that universities that faced reality and were not afraid to take part in the experiment gained a certain advantage because they earned experience using completely new marketing tools for themselves. Now, they will always have these tools, getting more and more returns every year as the professional skills of employees improve.

Here you can draw a parallel with distance learning. It's no secret that for quite a long time universities have not really sought to develop new forms of education. And, in general, educational institutions implementing online learning were outcasts in the Russian educational community. However, as if by a wave of a magic wand, 100% of universities switched to online learning when it became the only possible option for continuing educational activities. Having tried this option, many universities are no longer ready to abandon it and plan to keep the online component of the educational process in a certain scope.

Exactly the same favorable development of events awaits the sphere of recruiting foreign students.

How is the process of universities' adaptation to the use of new recruiting tools going?

We noticed how Russian universities' SMM (social media marketing) has become more active. A large amount of content from the real life of the university has appeared: photos with real students, footage from conferences held at the university, video blogs of teachers. This is a very good way to win the sympathy of the target audience. Very often, this work is carried out by active students in cooperation with marketing and international services. In this sense, we highly recommend universities to increase the level of employees' competence in the field of digital communications and monitor work in social media by creating suitable content plans and a posting schedule.

In addition to working in social media, there is a very important tool for attracting applicants. This is contextual advertising. Unlike SMM which contributes to the creation of a certain university background in social networks, contextual advertising is a direct action tool for collecting data about those people who are ready to enroll in a particular university. This is unique information that requires you to spend some money, but it is the systematic work to obtain such data that allows you to plan the advertising budgets, provide work to the employees involved in recruiting students, and achieve the admission numbers goals.

I would like to clarify that only a small part of Russian universities are ready to put contextual advertising tools into practice today, but even our experience of the last year shows that their interest is increasing.

During the last admission campaign, the Education Export Center provided an opportunity for universities to present themselves at the RED Expo platforms. What conclusions have you drawn based on the results of cooperation with universities?

Dozens of Russian and foreign universities took part in the RED Expo events, and we actually had the opportunity to discuss the effectiveness of various university presentation formats. Together we have evolved and helped each other to become better. In this regard, I would like to note that absolutely all universities participating in RED Expo show healthy enthusiasm in their desire to conduct more effective international recruiting.

By the way, I would also like to note that such work has allowed the EEC to accumulate a significant amount of knowledge about topical issues of recruiting foreign students. What is more, we do not preserve them, but actively use them in shaping the agenda of international recruiting in Russia. To do this, we hold monthly meetings of the Education Exporters Club, where we discuss the most exciting issues for international students of universities. Also in our Education Export Magazine, we together with our authors share our observations and ideas with readers.

What advice could you give to those universities that are planning to start participating in digital promotion or would like to increase their efficiency in this work?

We recommend paying attention to the following aspects:
  1. The distinctive features of digital marketing are complete transparency of expenses and the ability to conduct a detailed analysis of the most effective promotion channels. Therefore, the first tip is start using a CRM system that will monitor your advertising campaigns around the clock;
  2. Most of the communications with potential applicants will happen as correspondence in social media or messengers. Therefore, our second tip is that you should make it a rule to respond as quickly as possible to incoming messages from interested persons. If you do not answer it within 5-7 minutes, then they may forget why they contacted you.
  3. The social and cultural levels of foreign applicants may be completely different, which may make it difficult to obtain the necessary information. In this regard, our third tip is take advantage of written communications and compose a standard script for the first dialogue for yourself. Your questions should help identify the applicant's interest and get the information you need for further work. I will also note here that similar scripts can be prepared in all languages of the world using popular machine translation platforms, the quality of which is getting better day by day.
  4. The work on attracting applicants should never stop. Our fourth tip is that despite the limited period of the admission campaign, try to attract new applicants from the very beginning of the recruitment information work for the next year in order to involve them in all the activities of your university.
  5. Online promotion has made access to foreign markets much more accessible than it was before. Therefore, our fifth tip is: recruiting foreign students is available to small and medium-sized universities to the same extent as for large ones, and success depends not on the size of the advertising budget, but on a competent marketing strategy and the efficiency of processing incoming applications.

What are your forecasts and expectations from the upcoming recruitment campaign?

It seems to me that one of the main drivers will be the reduction of the selection period for foreign citizens who would like to get an education in Russia at the expense of the budget. The period for accepting applications from candidates ends on November 1. This situation will force our universities to participate more actively in online exhibitions and presentations dedicated to attracting foreign students to contract training, as well as to develop their own marketing resources to conduct an independent and targeted campaign. I think that based on the results of the upcoming recruitment campaign, there will be a fairly large number of Russian universities that will be able to compete in digital marketing strategies with foreign colleagues in the global education market.

Dmitri Nersesyan, CEO of Education Export Center (Russia). Received education in fields of international management and law in Russian leading universities. Dmitri has been working in the field of international education since 2002. Worked in different universities of Russia on both junior and senior positions. Dmitri specializes in developing international business of universities, higher education international marketing, and promoting universities on global educational market.