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Successful Recruitment Strategies in the New Normal, With Limited Mobility to Recruit

Some eight months into 2021, the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect global businesses in more ways than one. The international education scene is among the heavily impacted sectors as it relies heavily not only on physical interaction between students and faculty but on actual travel from one country to another. 


Although universities and colleges have managed to bring many of their classes online, this setup was hardly sustainable as most, if not all, students prefer face-to-face classes. International students crave the physical learning setup since most of them are not only after earning degrees but are also hungry for the complete overseas education experience. 


Taking into account the challenges of the pandemic and the consequent limitations in mobility, this article features some tips on how higher education institutions can maximize their presence online and continue recruiting students.


Key Takeaways:

  • Data analytics and search engine trends provide insight into how prospective students acquire information about their target study destination, institutions, or courses.
  • Updates on pandemic-related policies are among the things that Higher Ed Institution (HEI) websites need to include
  • Digital recruitment strategies that are centered on student support help address issues of limited mobility

With border closures and strict mobility restrictions, foreign students have had no choice but to settle for remote classes and the challenges that go with them, such as time zone differences, unstable internet connections in their home countries, and limited access to study materials. 


Unfortunately for institutions and agents, these issues have a direct impact on recruitment. For one thing, when prospective international students start to feel hopeless about their plans, they are most likely to defer them to a later date. That is why when institutions recruit during these trying times, they need to bring some sort of assurance to the students that the support they may need would always be available.


With this in mind, I’ve gathered a host of things institutions can do to weather the present challenges in their recruitment and thrive using the digital platform to attract and support prospective students. And if you are in charge of recruitment in your institution, please read on.

1. Assess where students acquire information about overseas studies

When designing an online recruitment strategy, HEIs need to identify the students’ sources of information regarding institutions, programs, and host destinations. Unlike before the pandemic when student fairs were frequently held, helping prospective foreign learners look for information about their study plans, information nowadays is gathered primarily online.


The fact is that the Internet is huge and institutions need to know what sites students mostly use or what online activities they engage in to acquire study-abroad information.


According to the international student survey (ISS) conducted by Quacquarelli Symonds that was participated in by over 78,000 students in 2020, here are the top information sources for prospective international students:

top information sources students bar graph

From here, HEIs can get an idea of how important it is to have updated website content as the majority of prospective students rely on this information.

2. Audit your online presence

It is critical for you to ensure that your website is properly working and easy to navigate. Then, assess whether all the important details about your programs are readily available and are all up-to-date. These are essential to the recruitment initiative as your website becomes the students’ main source of information about your institution and the programs your institution offers. Oftentimes, what students read on your website will determine whether or not they will pursue their study-abroad plans with your institution or move on to another.

3. Use data analytics

Institutions must learn how to utilize technological data to guide their recruitment activities. Using Google trends is a good tool to keep you informed of the current queries of prospective international students. 


In social media, data on the activities of your page audience can provide a deeper insight into the interests of your target recruits. You can then adjust your initiatives accordingly. This is exactly the reason why data analytics exists–to guide decision-makers in making the right choices.

4. Update your website regularly

Now more than ever, HEIs need to provide updates about everything students need to know. Post updates about health protocols, travel restrictions, schedule of classes, visa policy adjustments, and anything that will help students in their preparation for overseas studies.


university contact stages students graph

In the 2021 QS International Student Survey, when prospective students were asked about the frequency of communication from the HEIs they applied to, 23% said they would like to be contacted daily after they inquire and 42% were happy to be contacted every week. This suggests that prospective students are glad to be contacted regularly by universities even in the inquiry phase. This also means that being proactive in reaching out to the students is appreciated and can be a definite advantage for your institution.


Moreover, at a time when governments’ COVID-19 mitigation measures around the world change practically every other week, universities can help their prospective student audience get relevant and up-to-date information by posting timely pandemic-related info on their website. 


According to the 2020 QS coronavirus student survey, most of the prospective students would like to be contacted by institutions a few times a week or even just once a week in terms of  updates about the coronavirus pandemic, particularly the constant changes in travel and health protocols.

university coronavirus updates stages students graph

5. Consider partnering with recruitment service providers with proven expertise in using the digital platform

Designing an online recruitment strategy that will work efficiently can be a trial-and-error initiative for HEIs, especially for those that do not have prior experience in utilizing this platform before the pandemic. 


Partnering with providers that have extensive experience in recruiting students using the online platform will not only lead the institution’s digital recruitment towards the right direction but will also help them save valuable time. 


Some international education services providers, like M Square Media or MSM, offer more than online student recruitment. MSM also helps set up global in-country offices in strategic locations around the globe that will, in turn, help institutions get closer to their target student markets. Partnering with international education providers that have a wide global presence will bring your institution to more students in other territories without the need for you to set up costly overseas offices.


Another advantage of having an experienced recruitment partner is that it provides institutions access to a huge education agent network that can represent the institution anywhere in the world. Even with limited mobility, this setup addresses the connection gap caused by the pandemic.



Planning a digital recruitment strategy is a tedious task that requires a deep understanding of how prospective students acquire and consume information online. HEIs need to listen to the trends, allow data to be their guide, and provide information that will not only attract students to enroll but also help them overcome the roadblocks that the pandemic has created in their journey towards a high-quality global education. (MAY ARTHUR)

MSM GMO US Vice President May Arthur

May Arthur



Vice President, Global Marketing Office-US


May is a seasoned international education business executive with over 27 years of experience. She has held several leadership roles dedicated to growing and retaining the international student population at partner universities. 


Her broad areas of expertise include business development, organizational leadership, strategic planning, and global operations. She excels at developing and supporting partnerships with universities and managing global recruitment initiatives.


She has also been an active member of several renowned industry organizations including NAFSA: Association of International Educators, English USA, American International Recruitment Council (AIRC), and the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA).



2020 QS Quacquarelli Symonds Coronavirus Student Survey / How to Create Online Content that Drives Students to Your Institution (n.d.) Retrieved August 3, 2021, from https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/how-to-create-online-content-that-drives-students-to-your-institution/


New expectations for higher education amid crisis / US International Student Survey 2021 Retrieved August 3, 2021, from https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/international-student-survey-2021-us-edition/


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