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Surge in international undergraduate mobility identified

A “megatrend” of rising international undergraduate mobility has been identified in a new study from research body World Education Services (WES). It suggests more students are studying abroad at a younger age and are able to pay for longer courses. It also offers institutions practical recommendations on how to tap the evolving market.

"Higher education institutions cannot simply extend the practices designed for recruiting graduate students"

“Until now our practices have been designed to recruit mature students, graduate students who are more self-directed,” Dr Rahul Choudaha, director of research and strategic development at WES, told The PIE News.”With this research we wanted to see the big picture, the trends, and more importantly how they translate into actionable practice.”

According to the study, the top four study destinations, the US, the UK, Canada and Australia all saw an increase in international undergraduate enrolment between 2004 and 2012 driven mostly by students from China, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The US, the UK, Canada and Australia all saw an increase in international undergraduate enrolment between 2004 and 2012

It also shows a boom in interest from undergraduate students to study business programmes as opposed to graduates, who typically pursue STEM related degrees. It adds that the rise in younger students owes much to language pathways that ready them for university, particularly Intensive English Programs (IEPs) in the USA.

“Younger students need time to adjust to a foreign academic system, culture and life and their English language skills can be the biggest barrier to degree admittance,” it states.

However, the report warns recruiters that the decision-making process of undergraduate students, unlike graduate students, is more susceptible to factors such as location, parents, support services and word-of-mouth via social media. It suggests higher education institutions cannot simply extend the practices designed for recruiting and admitting graduate students to undergraduates. They should instead combine technology, partnerships and research to achieve “aggressive and efficient enrolment growth”.

“The institutional website is a powerful- if not the most powerful- tool for student segmentation,” states the report, adding that social-media, webinars and video tours of the campus as other technology-based tools all resonate. It also encourages long-term partnerships with foreign institutions and using student data to provide more personalised recruitment.

“The ability to recruit especially at the undergraduate level is much higher for the US”

Much of the practical advice in the report is aimed at US higher education institutions, but Choudaha says the findings can be applied more widely.

The study also notes that unlike in the UK and Australia, the growth in international undergraduate enrolments in the US has slowed in recent years. However, Choudaha is confident that US institutions will soon be recruiting competitively thanks to new proposals to improve immigration pathways for STEM graduates.

“Capacity is another factor,” he added. “The ability to recruit especially at the undergraduate level is much higher for the US, with only 2% of current undergraduates being internationals as compared to Australia where it is already one-fourth.”

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