By Paul Raybould, Marketing Director at Hobsons
With political and economic uncertainty disrupting universities and students alike, now is an important time to assess what public relations professionals in education can do to ensure the success of the sector. Whilst there is scope for many matters to be addressed, I will focus here on the impact of external events on international student recruitment. This year’s International Student Survey (ISS) from Hobsons found that social media campaigns are shaping how prospective students perceive the UK and helping make a strong case that the UK is welcoming to international students. Our insights from this year’s report illustrate that there is much that PR professionals in education can do in an uncertain world to respond to external events.
The decision to leave the EU has, for right or wrong, been perceived by some as a sign that the UK no longer welcomes migrants, a perception that could have far-reaching consequences for the British education sector. Equally, the Government’s decisions to exclude international students from immigration targets arguably sends a confusing message to the rest of the world. International students who come to study in the UK have greatly enhanced the higher education sector, British society and our economy. It is regretful that many do not feel that they are welcome in the UK.
For a student who leaves their home country in the pursuit of education, feeling welcome is of utmost importance. Our research found that 60.1% of respondents who are less interested in studying in the UK since the Brexit vote feel that because the UK is perceived to be “less welcoming to international students like me.” The degree to which a place feels welcoming is one of the most important factors influencing prospective students’ choice of a university town or city, with 31% citing it as the most important consideration in our survey. With perceptions of the UK for many influenced by what they read online or in the newspaper, it is here that PR can play a valuable role.
PR professionals have a unique role in shaping the public’s understanding of the world, helping to communicate positive ideas to ensure that the education sector can thrive during political upheaval. Whilst the recruiting of international students is often in the domain of the marketeers, PR teams can help creative a positive narrative of education in the UK.
“Campaigns have a positive influence”
Communicators need to think about brand Britain. Many universities – like those supporting the #WeAreInternational campaign, created by the University of Sheffield – are committed to welcoming international students through the power of social media. This year’s ISS found that 84% of prospective international students say campaigns such as #WeAreInternational and #LondonIsOpen – the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s campaign – have a positive influence on their perception of the UK.
With social media playing an increasingly significant role in the political campaigns that are driving the changes we are seeing in society, there are lessons that PR professionals can learn. This year’s research found that 83% of prospective students are using social channels to research universities that they are considering attending, an increase of 19% from 2016. Our findings highlight the importance of harnessing social media, which is global in its nature, to show that the UK is welcoming to international students.
Our findings demonstrate that whilst external events that cause political and economic uncertainty can disrupt the education sector, there is much that PR professionals can do to ensure that the education institutions they work with can prosper regardless. Strong, positive messages that have global reach can have a significant impact. By effectively communicating the strength of the UK education sector, PR professionals can foster a narrative of the country they want the world to see.
For more insights on international student recruitment, download the full report here: http://www.internationalstudentsurvey.com/2017/.