Tour operators said that while they have been looking into online complements to in-person tours for years because of flexibility and audience reach, partner universities had a preference for traditional offline recruitment – until Covid-19 left them with few alternatives.
“We need to change the traditional form of recruiting”
And tour operators are determined to show that online recruitment can be just as effective.
“I’ve been trying to get our partners to think a little bit outside the box. We need to change the traditional form of recruiting,” Girish Ballolla, founder and CEO of Gen Next Education, told The PIE News.
“We’ve gone to each of our partners and said, let’s identify a highly sought after program on your campus that could be of interest to Indian students.
“Let’s get a faculty member to present on that topic and talk about the program, internships, research, and graduate careers. We’re seeing strong attendance because the ones that are coming for the webinar are the ones who are really interested in the program.”
Kunal Parekh, managing director of Kunal Parekh High School Tours based in Mumbai said that his company has had “100 plus universities sign up for programs”.
“Every day we’ve been having sessions on Zoom. We have universities coming in and speaking to students, parents and guidance counsellors“ he added, noting they were also running sessions for counsellors to share student concerns with institutions abroad.
Aiming to keep communication open, companies have been divided on how best to achieve “the personal touch” online.
For some, it’s a chance to make sessions more specialised and offer things that wouldn’t easily be available offline – such as talks by faculty and alumni – while for others the aim is to recreate in-person events.
“We’ve already done online fairs in India, Latin America and Southeast Asia with 30 universities participating in each,” said Swaraj Nandan, director of UnivAssist.
“Our inspiration was the high school fairs that we used to organise because we think that is something that gives students the ability to interact and take in information in an environment that they are most comfortable with.”
Nandan said at such events, each university gets its own virtual room containing their representative on video, along with links to all the marketing materials in a side tab.
“Students can message in questions or do video chats, although Nandan noted that when the universities have asked the student to join a video, many of these teenagers are declining, which could be down to the possibility “they’re sitting in bed in pyjamas”.
Using online tools for recruitment is not without technical challenges however, ranging from ensuring that platforms work on smartphones to reaching students with poor internet connections.
A little more creativity is also required for accessing the student market in China. Nandan said that while a few Chinese students joined a recent web fair, “it was slower for them”.
Gavin Newton-Tanzer, founder and president of Sunrise which is based in China, told The PIE they had launched a series of informational sessions for universities to help them better understand how to recruit online in a country where “pretty much every online platform that is hosted outside of China is either blocked or throttled”.
“[We ran] a massive teaching initiative on how Chinese live-streaming is different”
“It was basically a massive teaching initiative on how Chinese live-streaming is different,” he explained, noting that it was advisable to use local apps and websites,” he said.
In addition, Sunrise has spent more than three years developing VR and AR technology that will allow students to visit campuses remotely.
Although the aim isn’t to replace campus tours, Newton-Tanzer hopes such technology will allow students to visit more campuses, “particularly if they’re in a hard-to-reach location or a different country”.
“Live VR doesn’t really exist yet. The main reason is because the size of the files would be tremendous,” Newton-Tanzer added.
“But it is kind of like how once upon a time we couldn’t stream video and now we can. So, we’re only maybe two years away from that.”