How Can UK Universities Improve Their Education Marketing Package to Foreign Students?

Regardless of whose figures you use, there is no doubt that the provision of university education to overseas students is big business with around 10% of all students who choose to study outside their country of birth gravitating to the UK where they are estimated to spend as much as £8 billion a year.

International students in UK university
photo credit: GIC Glasgow

Quite clearly the big names like Oxbridge and Imperial College attract plenty of overseas applicants purely on the strength of their world class reputations but lesser institutions have to rely on a never ending struggle to compete, not only with their competitors in the UK, but also in other developed countries which have a flourishing higher education “industry”. Although the UK is still second only to the United States as the most popular destination in the world for foreign students, competition from the likes of France and Germany is hotting up.

So just how can UK universities improve their education marketing package to foreign students? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that universities are not exactly penny-pinching with a survey of 70 institutions by the Times Higher Education Supplement revealing a 22% surge in budgets to £32 million between 2010/11 and 2011/12. Not surprisingly, when it comes to their overseas marketing effort, universities are continually exploring new avenues in order to maximise the amount of bang they get for their buck.

Rather than rely too heavily on their own in-house efforts, many institutions are now turning to education marketing specialists and outsourcing much of the work to them. This usually proves significantly more cost-effective in the long run. Some of these agencies are based here in the UK but have associates in all the main overseas markets while other are actually based overseas themselves. They can provide bespoke packages and, if desired, promote individual courses in individual markets.

Obviously, much work needs to go into building up brands and developing brand ambassadors amongst both alumni and current students. The use of social media to spread the message in target markets is, of course, an art form in itself and there are companies who specialise in this and also in managing the conversion of enquiries which is, at the end of the day, the coal face of education marketing.

For the foreseeable future at least, digital has to be the way forward for the thrust of marketing efforts and universities need to acquaint themselves with the keywords that prospective students are likely to be using when searching UK universities from different countries. Also they need to research which subjects are most popular amongst individual nationalities. Finally, higher education marketers should not simply rely on the main sites like Facebook and Twitter for their social media campaigns. Certain countries are known to prefer other sites that are hardly known about in the UK.