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8 trends in student recruitment for 2021

From online student recruitment to integrated AI 

The advancement of technology and the importance of digital channels in student recruitment for higher education institutions (HEIs) was already firmly on the trends radar before the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, despite the huge challenges it brought, the adoption of digital strategies by HEIs was rapidly accelerated during the pandemic, and these learnings will undoubtedly benefit future recruitment practices. At the recent PIE Live 2021 conference a panel discussing the future of digital student recruitment practices said that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a ‘revolution for recruitment and sales in the international education sector’.

So, in this article, we look at current and future technologies and the impact they will have on student recruitment and CRM systems. Plus, we explore the emerging trends in students’ wants and needs, which are critical when it comes to ensuring marketing campaigns achieve the desired results.

Technology trends in student recruitment 

1. AI, predictive analytics, and the cloud 

CRM systems that use AI are in their infancy. However, Artificial Intelligence has huge potential in its ability to both help recruiters gain better insights into students’ behaviour and deliver personalised campaigns. In the future student recruitment CRM systems will be able to use AI to enhance Chatbots and automated enquiry software, helping to increase understanding of sentiment and respond more accurately.

In addition, more student recruitment CRM systems will become cloud-based – enabling access from different devices with a centralised easy-to-access database. Improved access removes barriers to data-led decisions being made across the entire institution.

 2. New technology for growth 

A report by Jisc and Emerge Education stated that “tech developments will enable universities to expand capacity in a market that is clearly growing without having to invest too heavily in bricks and mortar”. Highlighting how student recruitment will develop over the next 10 years, the report said communications campaigns will become more automated, personalised, flexible and unified.

Global demand for higher education places is showing no signs of slowing and is set to increase significantly in the coming decades. With a government target to increase the number of international students studying in the UK from 460,000 to 600,000, CRM systems will play an increasingly important role in managing this expansion.

A solid CRM system that is scalable is key to HEIs achieving this, infrastructure must evolve to match changing student expectations and drive enrolments. Embracing the latest technology in education will play a key role in helping institutions make sense of complex information and to do more with less.

3. Integration, integration, integration 

Despite its ability to support the full student lifecycle, only 3% of HE institutions in a recent survey by AACRAO said they used their CRM to do this. The reality is that many HEIs are using CRM systems in a fragmented way, with separate systems for marketing, admissions and recruitment for example. Multiple, siloed systems should be replaced with a ‘one system’ approach for much more efficient, joined-up communications and the ability to spot trends and insights from a central set of data.

4. Reimagining the role of technology designed for higher education

CRM systems that have been specifically designed for higher education student marketing and recruitment will often prove most effective as they come tailored to the nuances and requirements of that type of organisation.  

For HEIs for example, this approach means a new student recruitment CRM system can be built out of the box with education-specific insight, allowing quick set up and fast ROI. It will also be configured to receive data from education systems and products, and include prebuilt workflows, report templates and service blueprints designed for the higher education sector.

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5. Audience aspirations 

Once your student recruitment CRM system is working as hard as possible, utilising the latest technologies, and integrating this across your operations, it’s critical not to lose sight of your audiences. Even the most sophisticated, technically advanced CRM won’t be able to achieve the best results without those that use it understanding the all-important wants and needs of their desired audience.

Of course, the uncertainty caused by the pandemic has made it even harder to anticipate and cater for students’ needs. However, a recent article in the Times Higher Education supplement about futureproofing student recruitment campaigns highlighted the need to act now:

“With so many unknown variables, preparedness right now is key. Developing the right strategy and action plan may be vital to help universities mitigate the impact of the virus now, and well into the future.”

6. Attracting Generation Z and beyond… 

Tasked with attracting a typical core audience of 16–24-year-old ‘digital natives’ to engage with their higher education Institutions, the pressure is on for student recruiters to keep up with modern trends in educational technology and stay ahead of the curve with their campaigns.

This discerning ‘always-on’ audience demands highly personalised, targeted interaction across multiple platforms, with the average 16-24-year-old spending at least two hours and 26 minutes engaging with online platforms such as social media on a daily basis.

Of course, another part of the challenge for student recruiters is how quickly things change and the next generation of would-be university students emerge with their own unique set of priorities, beliefs, and communication styles. Already, thought leaders are moving on from writing about Generation Z and millennials and talking about ‘Generation Alpha’ - the successors of Generation Z and the offspring of Millennials, born between 2010 and 2025. According to Dan Schawbel, director of Future Workplace, quoted in a recent article on Generation Alpha;

“They won't know a world without virtual reality, smartphones, electronic readers, the Internet of Things and wearables. Using these technologies will feel very natural to them, and their behaviour will influence older generations, as we've seen in the past with millennials and Gen. Z.”

These students will be much more open to online student recruitment and interacting with automated AI technologies.

7. Using digital trends to hit the right note 

With the tech focus of current and emerging generations in mind, the move away from in-person events provides the ideal opportunity for student recruiters to revise and enhance their digital marketing activities.

Making sure online channels are up-to-date and utilising social media to keep up communications with existing and potential students has become mission-critical for student recruiters. In addition to this, as more and more interaction has moved online, chatbots and self-service hubs have become more widely adopted to help ensure a personalised experience and speed of reply. Remember that Generation Z demand personalised, authentic communication with brands, including HEIs. To satisfy this preference, user-generated content and video content is becoming increasingly important for this audience.

A recent Forbes article cited a study that found that 65% of young people check Instagram every day, with Snapchat and YouTube also popular. The desire for visual content has also seen social channels such as TikTok rise hugely in audience numbers in the past few years.

8. In any event 

While it’s unlikely that face-to-face events will disappear completely in the future, given their unique ability to connect students with a taste of what attending a particular HEI might be like, student recruitment through digital events have proved their worth during the pandemic.

Albeit driven by necessity, online student recruitment fairs and other recruiting events have become increasingly sophisticated during the pandemic. Student recruiters will be able to employ these new-found skills to complement face-to-face events in line with the preferences of future generations.

Higher education institutions have also been using online technologies to encourage interaction between students during the pandemic where socialising hasn’t been possible. For example, Harvard University introduced ‘Virtual Visitas’ to replace its annual event for new students. The series of online videos and events created excitement among students about the year ahead and allowed them to build a sense of community without being on campus. This will also make having a cloud based and technologically advanced student admission management system even more important.

Futureproofing student recruitment with Tribal’s Student Marketing & Recruitment Solution

Underpinning any successful student marketing recruitment campaign is a robust, effective CRM system, which can be used to enhance the entire student lifecycle, from initial enquiry to enrolment, graduation, and right through to alumni management.

Tribal’s Student Marketing and Recruitment solution, built on Microsoft Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform, is a CRM system that has been built to revolutionise the student recruitment process. To find out more about how CRM systems can bring your student recruitment and retention campaigns to life and the benefits they can bring at every stage of the student journey, download our free guide to ‘Getting the most out of your CRM in Higher Education’.

The guide explores some of the trends outlined in this blog in more detail as well as an overview of the stats on future student demographics and international applications. It also explains CRM in easy-to-digest pointers and includes a number of useful, actionable tips. 

Download the guide to get the most out of your CRM