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North American universities ranked fifth in StudyPortals report

Universities in North America are ranked fifth in terms of how they best serve prospective international students, according to a recent StudyPortals report.

"Through Student Eyes", looked at how effectively the world's top 1,000 universities communicated information to international students

33% of the top 500 university websites in the US and Canada were not mobile-ready

This year’s “Through Student Eyes” report, compiled by international study search website, StudyPortals, along with the British Council and IELTS, details the findability, information and usability, and responsiveness of the world’s top 1,000 universities from the perspective of international students.

The study was done by a team of international students who contacted the universities as “mystery shoppers” pretending to be prospective students. They would then see how effectively the relevant information asked is communicated to them by the institutions.

Coming top was the region of Benelux and Scandinavia, followed by the UK and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and German-speaking Europe, with the US and Canada coming in fifth.

The report further details that one in five of the top 500 universities in the US and Canada do not respond to international students who have shown an interest in their programmes.

“Someone who is really interested in what you offer and you don’t even bother to reply”

These statistics are similar to last year’s report which found that the same amount of enquiries went unanswered in European universities.

Magnus Olsson, senior representative and one of the founders of StudyPortals, said it is remarkable that so many institutions do not respond.

“The most surprising was that universities are so bad at following up on student interests,” he told The PIE News. “Someone who is really interested in what you offer and you don’t even bother to reply.”

He suggested that one of the reasons for one fifth of enquiries not being responded to, particularly for the US, is because of the reputation of the study destination.

“A little like, ‘we are one of the main countries for students to go to and student have always been coming to us so they will keep on coming’ and don’t really feel the need to work on it,” said Olsson.

The report for US and Canada universities also shows that despite 21% of enquiries not being responded to, just over half (52%) were dealt with within a day. The other 27% of enquiries were seen to in two or more days.

While most of the enquiries were responded to in the US and Canada universities, only 10% of them sent a further follow-up email to the students asking if there is anything more they can help with, or if they’re interested.

Olsson said that as international students are worth so much to the institutions, they have to put themselves in the situation that “they’re selling high priced expensive products”.

In terms of being able to navigate the universities’ websites and find the relevant information they need, the majority of the content was overall ranked as “easy” or “quite easy to find.”

“You’re going to be at a very substantial disadvantage if you don’t have it”

However, the accreditation of the programme and the start date were ranked as the hardest parts of the course information to find online.

Another significant finding of the study was that 33% of the top 500 university websites in the US and Canada were not mobile-ready.

While this number has decreased from 44% in 2014, Olsson emphasised how important this is for universities, especially as Google now prioritises mobile-ready sites in its search results.

“Today when more and more is done on tablets and phones, that’s close to commercial suicide,” he said. “Even though we see many are moving in that direction, but it’s important that those that are not, already aware of it are doing something they have to act on soon.”

He continued: “One year down the road, you’re going to be at a very substantial disadvantage if you don’t have it.”

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