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Krista Northup, the State University of New York (SUNY)

KN: It’s this idea of outsourcing I suppose. Education is held on a high pedestal in the US, but I don’t think using agents diminishes that. We’re not talking about ever lowering the quality of the education system or the students that we’re accepting. We uphold every admissions standard whether or not a student comes through an agent. Agents are one strategy to reach international students effectively.

"Rank is one factor to consider, but the experiences you get on a campus are just as important"

At the end of the day the university’s admissions office makes the final decision, and if that’s never compromised then there’s no problem in using agents.

The PIE: Other than agents, what channels do you use to reach the market?

KN: Direct marketing, e-marketing campaigns, virtual fairs. We spend a lot of time working on our website and are trying to do more specialised outreach and marketing based on the country. This is actually another way in which we work with agents as they can help us with country-specific input when we are designing our marketing materials.

“We have been focused on China, Korea and India but we’re starting to expand”

The PIE: What are SUNY’s biggest markets?

KN: SUNY campuses recruit across a wide spectrum, but most of our efforts from the system perspective have been focused on China, Korea and India. We’ve also made a strategic decision to focus on Vietnam. We’re starting to explore and expand into other markets too. We’ve been looking at Denmark and Israel this year. Diversity is important to us; we don’t want to keep focusing only on the big markets and want to make sure we have a nice diversity of students on our campuses.

The PIE: Campus diversity is an issue many universities ponder over. Why is it important?

KN: One of the key reasons US universities recruit overseas is to have different perspectives in the classroom. We always talk about and profile the American learning style which encourages open discussion and debate, asking questions, and learning from each other in addition to learning from the teacher.

We believe the more diversity in a classroom, the more potential for this type of collaborative learning. Also, diversification is essential to enrolment management. If something happens in a particular student market and students stop coming, you’re in real trouble if you have an over reliance on that market.

The PIE: At the moment do you see a lot of demand for SUNY in the market?

KN: I do think there’s a lot of demand. It’s interesting the reaction you get in some markets to a public university system. SUNY offers top quality programs at an affordable price. If you compare us to some of the private universities in New York, and around the country, we come in at quite an affordable rate. But the perception of public education varies country to country. In Israel, for example, it’s very favourable because people are very cost aware and trying to save money. In other markets there’s a perception that lower cost means lower quality.

“The perception of US public education varies country to country”

That said, I do see a lot of demand and our goal is to brand SUNY better: we are a big state university with a lot of capacity and a lot of great programmes.

The PIE: How do you help your smaller members overcome the perceptions you mention?

KN: We work hard to explain the benefits smaller classrooms and colleges can offer. I went to a small school in Maryland and was exposed to opportunities I would never have had at a larger university, because I would just have been a number there. I met professors, they wrote recommendation letters for me, they were available for questions if I was stuck on a topic. And that’s the type of thing we’re talking about with prospective students: rank is one factor to consider, but the experiences you get on a campus are just as important.

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