There are three essential and clearly recognised elements involved in the international student decision-making process – choosing a country, choosing a course, and choosing an institution.

Universities and other education providers channel most of their marketing efforts into promoting their institutions and, to a certain extent, their courses. Curiously, institutions seldom consider the influence of country choice as part of a prospective student’s decision – they tend to take a “hands-off” approach, leaving it to governments to promote or market their home state. This is too often a wasted effort because by this stage the majority of students have already decided on their favoured country.

Should institutions have a more active role when it comes to promoting the strengths of their country?

Given that most students everywhere choose a country before choosing an educational institution, shouldn’t the marketing and recruitment departments of these education providers make a better effort at highlighting the strengths of a country?

The answer to this question is a resounding “yes they should”.

When choosing a country in which to study, international students focus on several criteria values they deem of most importance to their future: these include potential work opportunities, country safety, quality of education and lifestyle values.

When analysing these four criteria from different points of view with the four most relevant English speaking countries competing in the international student market – USA, UK, Canada, and Australia – it is evident the latter is in a privileged position. Unfortunately, its universities are barely doing anything to highlight these strengths.

LIFESTYLE COMPARISON

The OECD Better Life Index ranking prides itself in extending its considerations from economic statistics to also include the essential areas of living and quality of life. The ranking is based on eleven factors, including life satisfaction and health. In the 2014 results Australia was ranked number one (for the forth year in a row), with Canada fifth, USA seventh and the UK twelfth. Other reputable rankings in which Australia tops the list include the United Nations Human Development Index, where it shares the top 2 positions with Norway, while the UK ranks in at 14. The Economist Intelligence Unit puts Australia in second position as “the best country to be born in”, well ahead of Canada, USA and the UK (9, 16, 27 respectively).

Alongside these sophisticated rankings less complex comparisons that can also be considered as important for lifestyle values, such as the weather. The average high temperature in major cities; Sydney 21.8 ºC, New York 14.7 ºC, London 14.7 ºC and Vancouver 13.3 ºC.

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From the Australian marketing perspective it can be easily suggested that cities such as Sydney and Melbourne are fortunate to have mild weather, unlike the extreme winters endured by those of the northern hemisphere. However, this is just one example for one country – other nations clearly have a lot going for them across a multitude of indicators and it should not be hard for universities to highlight these “home advantages” to their benefit when marketing to international students.

For example, the 2015 QS Best Student Cities draws on 18 indicators to score each city in five key categories: university rankings, student mix, desirability, employer activity and affordability. QS then devises a methodology (read in full here) to reveal which of the world’s great cities offer the best student experience and outcomes. No 1 in the Top 50 is Paris and third is London with cities such as New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Berlin, Zurich and Milan, also rating highly in international student desirability. Marketing opportunities abound for universities in such cities to promote the advantages of studying in these (and other) locations.

QUALITY OF EDUCATION

Reputable rankings such as Shanghai Jia Tong (ARWU), Times Higher Education and QS have ranked British and American universities at the top of the world for decades. Considering most international students are not coming to the Top 25 universities in the world and based on these rankings, it is fair when discussing quality of education and to have a better picture to include the total number of institutions per country and the percentage that is ranked in the top 250, instead of just by origin of the top 25 institutions.

Using only ARWU and considering there are 41 universities in Australia, 81 in Canada, 131 in the UK and over 900 in USA; Australia again comes at the top with more than a fifth of its universities ranked in the top 250, whereas the US and Canada have only over 10 per cent of their universities at this level and over 17 per cent in the case of the UK. Such information can be used by domestic universities to market the quality and strength of higher education generally in their host country. Whilst we have here picked out indicators that paint Australia in a good light, globally universities can tease out information from rankings that show the benefits of studying in their domestic markets.

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SAFETY

Personal security is at the core of an individual’s well-being and consequently is one of the most important determinations for international students in not only country choice but also in seeking the opportunity to study abroad. It is understood that the more populated the country ­– the higher the chance of falling victim to crime.

Comparing Australia’s population to that of Canada, UK and USA, it is the lowest; with just over 23 million inhabitants, followed by Canada with 35 million, UK with 64 million and USA with 318 million. Respectively, they hold position in the top five safest countries, with the exception of the USA (ranked 14th on the OECD Safety indicators). Obviously, this safety element provides crucial marketing advantages for Australian universities.

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JOB PROSPECTIVE

Considered the most important factor by international students, the natural progression from student to profession leads them to deliberate the realistic outcomes of their education.

Specific to students, working while studying makes for a great incentive for the prospective nation. In Australia, for example, students have the ability to work up to 40 hours per fortnight and unlimited hours on recess, on and off campus. In the US this is much more restricted, whereby students cannot work off campus in the first academic year and are limited to 20 hours per week and 40 hours on recess. This treatment is also similar in the UK and Canada.

Post study working schemes can also be offered by countries, with Australia by far the most attractive country within the four when it comes to the prospective of gaining employment after finishing studies. It offers a two years working visa for a two years minimum study at a bachelor or coursework master level. A three and four year working visa is offered for studying a Master of Research and PhD respectively.

Placed in perspective, the scheme is unavailable in the UK, while Canada has a scheme with much more restrictions in programs and course requirements, and the USA offers a one-year visa for majors in STEM areas only.

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It is curious that domestic education providers do not vigorously promote these strong indicators of the benefits of studying in Australia.  Taken together they provide a strong argument for the need to increase their efforts in building awareness of these winning elements, in conjunction with the government and all organisations supporting international education.

Managing to connect these winning elements to values proposed by the education providers will also enhance their positions and will allow for potential marketing communication opportunities.

It is not beyond higher education institutions across the world to find solid and trustworthy data that enhances the value of studying in their home nations.

Does your university promote the country strengths as much as the university strengths? To find out how we can help you design a holistic marketing strategy contact us here or simply email us at admin@he-cg.com or phone +61 403 302 710