Post-COVID Student Recruitment Market: A view from the UK as a destination for International Students

While much is said to be uncertain in terms of the long-term impact of COVID-19 to the global movement of students in higher education, the short-term impact is slowly unfolding in the UK international HE sector. This presentation will reflect on the immediate impact of the pandemic to UK institutions – with a particular focus on international student recruitment – and the experience of the University of Bristol in managing outcomes. Firstly I will outline the immediate impact of local lockdowns in the student conversion journey – from application, to meeting conditions of offers, to student enrolments. Here I highlight (1) that the popularity of the UK as a destination and the popularity of international HE among students have had a variable impact across subject areas as seen in recent surveys and in actual application volumes; (2) that the conversion of applicants into meeting the conditions of offer has been a challenge sector-wide with some significant country markets changing the ways in which grades are achieved; (3) and that there is an expected downturn of enrolled students due to ongoing travel restrictions and general perceptions of the UK government’s response to the pandemic – perhaps this is nuanced across different types of HE institutions in the UK (for example for Russell Group institutions or else high-ranking institutions). Secondly, I will reflect on the specific response of Bristol to manage the impact of the pandemic as it unfolded across the recruitment cycle. Here I highlight the institution’s (1) proactive contingency planning and work done to predict the impact to student numbers; (2) immediate move towards online recruitment and closer engagement with third party service providers (student recruitment agencies, private pathway providers, and student marketing companies); (3) and recalibration of traditional student registration and onboarding process. As a final note, I reflect on the short-term outcomes of these responses and how we are measuring success.

Ralph Buiser has over 7 years of experience in the international student recruitment sector in the UK. Currently he is the International Market Insight Manager at the University of Bristol with a remit over international student recruitment business intelligence and new programme development. Previous to this, he was an Analyst at IDP Education, an Australia-based international student recruitment agency, with a remit over UK and US-bound student mobility monitoring and business development support. He is currently a PhD candidate at Cardiff University towards a PhD in Sociology.