Don’t overlook transnational alumni
“Enter transnational alumni: alumni that conduct their personal and professional lives within two or more countries”
Education institutions around the world are upping their efforts to engage with not only their domestic but also their international alumni – but many overlook a third category, writes Gretchen Dobson, EdD, Academic Assembly‘s Vice President International Alumni & Graduate Services, Managing Director, Australia.
Two years ago, while based in China, I had one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments: I realized that for the vast majority of institutions that define their alumni demographics as “domestic or international”, there is another category to define and engage. Enter transnational alumni: alumni that conduct their personal and professional lives within two or more countries. Today’s international education’s trends and future practices support the concept of this new definition that goes beyond the “either/or” and other limiting database management practices.
Aside from the classic definition of international alumni as “alumni who provide contact information outside the country where their degree was granted”, what about the alumni body that experiences multiple campuses and, therefore, represents an institutional diaspora with an international footprint? Global business schools and Executive MBA programs are on the right track. INSEAD Business School doesn’t distinguish between domestic and international alumni — they are all global. Can they also be called transnational?
Moreover, alumni who were international students and, since graduation, have returned to the country of their foreign study — or never left after graduation — are likely counted as “domestic” because their postal codes on file are coded as such. When schools utilize a more strategic mechanism for tracking this body, institutions gain a valuable international diaspora at their doorstep. These alumni could be identified as transnational domestic alumni, as long as the institutions commit to internationalizing their current CRM systems and annually invite the alumni to update their contact information, highlighting how ‘opting in’ creates value for institutions and alumni seeking greater global networks.
“The success of engaging international alumni relies heavily on how sophisticated and ‘user-friendly’ systems are”
So, what are the solutions? First, output is only as good as input. The success of engaging international alumni relies heavily on how sophisticated and “user-friendly” systems are for fulfilling this objection. Institutions must first make sure current systems can record international information such as postal codes, country codes for phone, three or more spaces for first or surnames, and social media profiles that are regularly used in home countries. Kent State (Ohio, USA) has successfully worked with the US Embassy in Riyadh and local alumni to co-host new student send-off events on their premises. The ability to contact and remain in touch with their alumni is boosted by an awareness and respect for a Middle Eastern norm of multiple name identifiers.
Second, we don’t know what we don’t know. Institutions need to know the depth of current data, one of the early recommendations I make when discovering global alumni data for partners. Research and track when the first international students attended the institution and how the demographics have changed over time. Understand the history of international alumni and the international student records, where there may be gaps, and where data may reside other than in central advancement records (such as with academic departments, graduate schools, summer language programs, or admissions/recruitment). The reinforcing administrative structure of central and school-based alumni officers at the University of Birmingham (UK) insure greater coordination between records.
Third, institutions must promote a lifelong relationship early and often with international students. Build and enhance relationships with international students by creating partnerships between alumni relations and international student services so that the student-to-alumni experience is one that is marked by positive anticipation. Profile international student stories back in home countries through the students’ preferred mode of social media. Institutions in the Brisbane, Australia area built a signature program for the last seven years.
“We don’t know what we don’t know. Institutions need to know the depth of current data”
Finally, create records for “non-traditional” alumni. Consider non-traditional contact information for students and guests spending time with the university community such as international honorary degree recipients, study abroad and exchange students (yes, even short-term), visiting international faculty, and research fellows from government scholarships programs. Now this is truly comprehensive global stakeholder engagement!
Altogether, the ability to identify and involve transnational alumni and students should fast-forward strategic planning and the implementation of global employability programs. Transnational alumni and students may be just the type of graduate multinational employers are seeking: alumni with multilingual skills, cross-cultural competences and a desire to advance their lives abroad.