When we reassure students that the UK and US are safe and welcoming, we cannot be vague or elusive
“If you were to ask most colleagues across the HE sector whether or not they believe that the UK is tolerant and inclusive, then the likelihood is that they would say ‘yes’. There may be a pause before they respond”
As the turbulent political landscapes in the UK and US have some international students questioning how welcoming they really are, Martyn Edwards, head of marketing and business development for IDP, considers what educators can do to reassure students.
If you were to ask most colleagues across the HE sector whether or not they still truly believe that the UK is secular, tolerant and inclusive, then the likelihood is that they would say “yes”. There may be a pause before they respond, due largely to the events that have followed 2016’s EU referendum, but the answer would be affirmative.
However, knowing that the UK at its core remains a safe and multicultural place is one thing, but how we capture this in a compelling narrative that resonates with international students and their families is something else. Similarly, the US education sector has been shaken by political action that could affect its work – specifically the well-documented travel ban and the impact this may have on the US’s reputation as a safe, tolerant country in overseas markets.
“When it comes to conveying reassurances of safety and security we cannot be vague, elusive or ephemeral”
Studying overseas does not merely constitute a significant financial investment but a deep personal commitment, one that is often quite literally life changing. By its very nature, it involves taking a step into the unknown, travelling thousands of miles and leaving loved ones behind. It is a deeply emotional decision and, in this context, it is not surprising that safety is a key concern for students and their parents.
But our IDP student buying behaviour shows that the UK and also the US do not compare as favourably as Australia, Canada and New Zealand in perceptions of safety.
When it comes to conveying reassurances of safety and security we cannot be vague, elusive or ephemeral. We need to use our expertise in producing high quality marketing collateral and digital deployment, whilst ensuring that the messaging is authentic in tone and the content personalised and meaningful for international audiences.
“The iGeneration has evolved to become the most sophisticated and discerning of audiences”
In the highly turbulent political landscape in which UK and US institutions now operate, it is more important than ever to concentrate our efforts by taking ownership of things over which we can exercise some degree of control. Whilst it may be challenging to directly influence government policy and how related rhetoric is subsequently reported in overseas media, it is entirely possible to implement suitable institutional procedures and processes that can ease the concerns of prospective students. This can then be communicated through the various marketing engagement channels universities use in order to improve perceptions of safety.
Practical suggestions of where to focus could include:
- Buddying and mentoring schemes
- Student blogs and video diaries featuring a range of different nationalities
- Compile a light touch student safety guide that covers how to protect their property, personal security on public transport and at night, etc.
- Dedicated international support, welfare and diversity staff
- A clear welcome and orientation programme for new arrivals
- Student societies including on-campus religious groups
- On-campus security services
- Details of 24-hour support and emergency hotlines for students
- Highlight restricted access to university buildings and the use of ID cards
- Ample transport services, campus shuttle buses and out of hours transport options
- Initiatives with local police forces such as university liaison officers.
- Explain the role of student wardens, volunteers, ambassadors, and other residential support such as hall committees.
- Transparent policies on harassment and discrimination within the context of wider legislation e.g. The Equality Act, including steps for filing formal complaints and reporting.
- Alcohol-free zones and events.
- A zero tolerance position on drug use.
- International specific social events.
- Locate local diaspora and faith/worship networks within the wider community.
- Host joint activities between institutions and the wider community to support integration such as festivals and outreach
- Compile a list of key contacts both within the institution but also relevant external bodies and providers such as reputable local taxi firms, approved landlords, Citizen’s Advice Bureau and UKCISA
The iGeneration has evolved to become the most sophisticated and discerning of audiences. UK and US institutions could do far worse than to adopt sound safety and student wellbeing measures that are then highlighted in their marketing and communication strategies as a point of genuine competitive difference.