Covid-19 and the chance to enhance International student recruitment

Posted by Rebecca Unwin on April 16, 2020

Covid-19 and the chance to enhance International student recruitment


The corona virus is having a huge impact on Higher Education, as well as economies and lives across the globe. Universities have closed, teaching has moved online, and face to face events have been called off. March is normally one of the busiest months in the academic calendar with bulging lecture theatres and buzzing cafes. Now the libraries stand empty, offices locked up.

But with everyone in lockdown and the future uncertain, universities must strive onward forging new patterns of learning and communication. Crucially, the potential crisis of international recruitment must be met head on, promptly and cohesively.

International students make up around 20% of the UK’s total student population with the largest proportion of those coming from China. Covid-19 and its challenges will impact international student recruitment for years to come but universities can adapt and diversify in some of the following ways to help overcome the current crisis and future proof themselves.

Communication is key

For many international students, communication is essential given the geographical distance. Now more than ever it’s time to get in touch to provide reassurance, detail for enrolment and keep them engaged. Video rules the social media landscape. Cisco estimate that video will account for 82% of internet traffic globally by 2022. Map out the student journey for your students and keep in touch along the way. Consider sharing ‘Day in the Life of a student’ video content or a 360 degree virtual visit of campus. Can you accelerate your plans for a virtual open day?

Create a directory of support

In the chaos of today, provide clarity and support. Often university websites are criticised for being difficult to navigate. Consider creating a directory of support pulling together all the funding that is available to international students. A landing page dedicated to outlining the resources available to international students would also be invaluable, bringing relevant information together in an easily navigable place.

Solidify connections

For students, insider knowledge provides assurance and engagement. Can you create a peer to peer contact scheme matching students with buddy students who have already studied their same subject abroad? Redirect some focus to the promotion of country societies within your university and generate opportunities for connection with students. A strong ambassador programme, especially in countries not previously heavily targeted for recruitment could provide new opportunities through a more personalised approach.

Nurture your relationships

Look at selectively pairing with agencies, ideally on exclusive contracts and strengthen that relationship. A strong personal relationship will ensure they understand your university’s unique selling points and they can provide feedback including barriers to recruitment i.e. accommodation and transport challenges. Could a member of your team be dedicated to agent management and return on investment?


Focus on other countries in terms of recruitment – look at smaller recruitment models within nations you haven’t had much recruitment success from before. If you have a more diverse student body there is no heavy reliance on any one country and universities are more capable of withstanding crises like the one we’re currently experiencing.

Flexible learning

Explore and develop options for teaching and learning online that provide more flexibility for international students. Can you offer a pay-as-you-go model whereby students study modules as and when they have time and finance? Try to integrate such formats with on campus learning, such as an annual event with the opportunity for international students to stay on campus and make connections with each other.

Covid-19 will inevitably have a resounding impact on international student recruitment, but with accelerated action and forward-thinking universities can strengthen their international offering and overcome the current challenges of this global crisis.

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