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Tech targets international school engagement as counsellor role evolves

Higher education providers looking to enrol students from international schools must recognise a change in demand as the counsellor landscape further professionalises, delegates heard at the recent PIE Live event.

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"Universities are having an increasing challenge due to rising competition and over-saturation"

Traditionally, US colleges and universities have understood and engaged successfully with student counsellors worldwide, but providers in other countries could do more to benefit from a pipeline of international students that can sometimes be overlooked, speakers highlighted.

“Advice is given on making tertiary ‘best fit’ rather than high ranking”

“I think my concern is how many universities don’t realise just how strong the international counselling network actually is and how many international schools there actually are,” explained Elisabeth Marksteiner, international independent education consultant at EKMEC. ISC Research figures indicate 12,000 international schools worldwide, she added.

“Advice is given on making tertiary ‘best fit’ rather than high ranking. We look to see where the student is likely to be successful as a person as well as what the outcomes may be,” Marksteiner added.

However, engagement effectiveness varies from institutions in different study destinations, she continued.

“The US, for example, does a great job of engaging with international college counsellors… Contrast then with the UK… Yes, there are exceptions, but I would say the UK does a particularly poor job as a sector of engaging with the international counsellor community. And the Dutch just rock.”

Head of higher education at British curriculum school, The Alice Smith School in Malaysia, Joseph Marshall agreed that American universities have “been doing this longer and they are so much more sophisticated”.

What they’re presenting, and their understanding of it, is very different and far more sophisticated,” he said.

International schools are becoming increasingly savvy to changing student and family demand, and increasingly employing specialists to help with higher education application, Marshall indicated.

The “American model”, with a stronger focus on employing full time counsellors is becoming more common, he said.

“Prior to [my joining five years ago], [the counsellor] was a teacher with a split workload and that’s becoming very difficult to do.

Other American schools in the region might have five or six counsellors, he added.

“The complexity of some of this is becoming so high now… A single student might apply somewhere in Korea, Singapore, the United States, Canada, each one of those carries quite significant amount of complexity to it that you have to know. We’re often not real rocket science, but certainly enough fiddly complexity that is quite hard to manage.”

“It’s a very interesting journey to see just how not only the the international school sector itself is is growing so significantly – it’s due to be 16,000 schools by 2026 representing about 10 million students – but also, in fact, from our perspective as the partner to counsellors within these schools to see how counselling as a profession is maturing,” CEO of BridgeU Lucy Stonehill said.

“[However] there are a huge sort of inequities, I think across international schools, insofar as some schools are much better resourced to have teams or even dedicated counsellors,” she emphasised.

Top down, there has been more of a recognition of the counselling function and “just how important and critical that is within schools”, she said.

However, technology has been used to benefit students, counsellors and schools, speakers highlighted.

Along with BridgeU’s software and solutions, Concourse Global set out to solve two problems “by reinventing the admissions process”, according to Kim Morrison CEO of Grok Global Services.

“The first is that the application process for students is far too complicated, that there’s too much friction and it’s a burden for guidance counsellors. And students are missing out on choice because of the complexity of the process,” she said.

“And then on the other side, universities are having an increasing challenge due to rising competition and over-saturation in reaching the right students and then being able to engage and influence their decision making.”

Concourse allows universities to review student profiles and then they apply to the student, with counsellors placed at the centre of the process, mediating the offers.

“[Students] receive legally binding offers through the Concourse platform, and then the student can choose which of those offers that they decide to entertain and then be able through the platform to engage with admissions or recruitment officers in order to explore that,” she said.

Marshall also emphasised an improved engagement by going online during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Generic advice won’t work anymore”

“[Institutions] need to offer something that we’re not able to offer ourselves. That’s becoming increasingly difficult as we become increasingly professionalised. I don’t really need, for example, a something quite prosaic, like a personal statement workshop… generic advice won’t work anymore,” he said.

“I have to be honest, particularly UK universities… the content is not great, there’s a lot of very, very poor content,” he explained.

“The quality of lecture we’re now able to access has gone through the roof,” he however continued.

“We’re really able now to engage with people that are really, you know, on the vanguard of what they’re doing. And this was almost unheard of before.

“We’re talking to the source more… and the quality of interaction is going up significantly.

“We know there’s so much more that this technology can do that we haven’t even begun to look at yet, [but] from my point of view, I found that generally a really positive experience.”

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