HE marketing in a digital age: ‘it’s not so much about the channels that you use, it’s about the questions that you ask’

“My favourite case study is about the University of Nottingham in 2010, before the UK general elections… Almost every article about the election in the significant UK media quoted a University of Nottingham Politics department faculty member”

US higher education marketing expert Michael Stoner talks to Gerrit Bruno Blöss about how universities market themselves in an age of digital technology and social media. Michael Stoner is author of ‘Social Works’, a book about social media marketing in higher education.

Your book features more than two dozen case studies of universities employing social media in their marketing. Which one of those examples is your favourite, and why?

My personal favourite is the one about the University of Nottingham. In 2010, before the general elections in the United Kingdom, they saw an opportunity to position the staff of their Politics department as expert commentators. There are three reasons why that case study is so interesting.

First, none of the things that the University of Nottingham did would be far beyond the scope that an expert PR publisher in 1985 would have done, except for the fact that they used a blog, Twitter, e-mail, and YouTube, which of course did not exist in 1985. A lot of the conceptual framework for the campaign was based on sound PR practice. You identify the people that you need to reach out to and how to reach them, and then you work the channels. It’s different today than in 1985 because we are operating in a different timeframe, but the basic PR principles still hold.

Secondly, they were very careful in identifying the outcomes that they were seeking. They were very SMART in setting goals – measurable, achievable and realistic – and they blew all their goals out of the water. They wanted to involve four Politics department faculty members, and they actually involved eight; they wanted 20 pieces of international coverage and they achieved 466… Almost every article about the election in the significant UK media quoted a University of Nottingham Politics department faculty member.

“If you are thoughtful about the way you construct the campaign, the effects can be even more far-reaching than the original goals”

A third reason is that the campaign had significant impact not only because they achieved their goals – but they demonstrated that if you are thoughtful about the way you construct the campaign, the effects can be even more far-reaching than the original goals. You could say that achieving a 15% bump in applications is significant, and it is, but, in a university environment, having other faculty members look to your department as a success is a really significant achievement that is hard to measure.

This case study shows that it’s not so much about the channels that you use, it’s about the questions that you ask, the needs you have. That’s basic marketing 101.

In some of the case studies, the reason for using social media for marketing was to build the brand while keeping expenses low.

Social media is often about keeping the external spend low. One of my frustrations with higher education and some of our colleagues is that they look at an external spend as a cost, but they don’t view staff time as a cost. To me, as a business person, it’s a huge cost. If I have a developer who is working on an internal project and not working for a client, then that’s a real expense to me, we’re losing income. Just because the higher education institution is booking revenue in a different way than we do it doesn’t mean that staff time shouldn’t be seen as a valuable asset and looked at in the entire picture of costs.

“If I have a developer who is working on an internal project and not working for a client, then that’s a real expense to me”

That’s one of the big challenges when we talk about accounting for these projects: if you’re really using social media effectively, people will be spending time on it. That’s time that they’re not going to be able to do other things. You have to recognise that. If you don’t, the project is not going to be as successful as it otherwise would be. So the advantage of a project like the one at the University of Nottingham is, of course, they had a fixed timeframe; it’s easier to run a project like that because the expenditure of staff time happened in a much shorter timeframe.

How much does a typical US institution spend on marketing?

That’s a very difficult question to answer. I was on a state university’s campus recently and they had a study done that indicated that the institution was spending US$71 million on marketing. But when you looked at the budget that was controlled by the university’s central marketing unit, the spend was about $3 million. What’s the right answer? I can’t really tell you. That institution is having a struggle now how to answer that question. And this kind of fragmented marketing organisation is really typical for universities in the US, but also internationally.

Do you see differences in the approach to social media between Anglo-Saxon countries, where education is expensive for the students, and “cheaper” countries like Germany, where institutions rely more on state funding than tuition fees?

“You want to build buzz around your institution because you want better students… perhaps you want to be the Harvard of Germany”

Many institutions that aren’t very concerned about marketing in terms of recruiting or fundraising are interested in social media because their focus in marketing is to enhance the brand value of the institution, so marketing is focused on the brand. It’s not related to student recruitment or fundraising. That’s something where social media could be very important and an essential tool. You want to build buzz around your institution because you want better students, even though you are as affordable as any other university – but perhaps you want to be the Harvard of Germany.

Gerrit Bruno Blöss is a Valuation & Business Modelling consultant with Ernst & Young in Stockholm. He assists clients in business plans, financing and business valuations, especially in the technology environment.

This interview was first published by CHIP.DE in German – read the original here.

No longer should languages be dismissed as ‘soft skills’

“As business becomes increasingly borderless in years to come, the language skills and cultural competencies of our business leaders will become critical to our economic health”

Gary Muddyman, CEO of Oxford-based translation agency Conversis, discusses the language skills crisis facing the UK and explains why he believes languages should no longer be seen as a ‘soft skill’.

Last month, I was invited to address The All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages session on behalf of the Globalisation and Localisation Association (GALA), a global trade body representing 27,000 language service providers. I took the opportunity to deliver an important message: the deepening language skills shortage is affecting UK competitiveness abroad. In order for UK businesses to continue to trade successfully in coming years, the nation’s attitude to languages must change.

No longer should languages be dismissed as ‘soft skills’. It is essential that languages are intertwined with the core STEM skills driving the global economy. As business becomes increasingly borderless in years to come, with languages other than English likely to become the lingua franca, the language skills and cultural competencies of our business leaders will become critical to our economic health. Without language the global economy simply can’t function; monolingual cultures will lose out.

It was estimated recently that the language skills deficit costs UK £48bn a year (3.5% of GDP)

The crisis in language education in the UK is well documented: 2013 saw a 40% drop in universities offering language courses and the number of UK students taking language A-Levels hitting an all time low. It was estimated recently that the language skills deficit costs UK £48bn a year (3.5% of GDP).

Whilst the UK is finally making some steps in the right direction (for example, with languages becoming a compulsory part of the curriculum for primary school children aged seven plus from September) I believe this to be too little and too late. It could take between 20 and 40 years in all reality for teachers to be trained, youngsters to be taught and for business people with the right combination of language skills and cultural competencies to emerge to lead our businesses.

At present we simply do not have the linguistic talent in this country to even fill the jobs that currently exist. My business is based in rural Oxfordshire, but only a handful of my staff are British nationals and have come through the British education system. This is for no reason other than we find candidates from Europe generally have stronger skills in the required areas.

However, the point I would like to make is that it is not just the Language Service Industry that has cause for concern here; the language skills deficit is set to affect British competitiveness abroad generally. Considering the seriousness of these consequences it is surprising there is less awareness of the problem or action being taken to address it.

“it is not just the Language Service Industry that has cause for concern here; the language skills deficit is set to affect British competitiveness abroad generally”

Whilst it remains an uphill battle, it is good to know that there are several strong initiatives out there currently making headway. These include ‘Languages for All’: a strategic effort, spearheaded by the University of Maryland and supported by the British Academy to widen language learning, resulting in an advanced language proficiency in the workforce. There is also what has been dubbed the ‘Global Talent Program’, spearheaded by GALA and primarily sponsored by Manpower Group. This sets out to create an environment in both the UK and US where business and education work together toward job growth and economic competitiveness.

Should you be interested in reading more about the language skills deficit and the opportunities and challenges facing the Language Services industry, you can download a PDF of my presentation to the APPG here.

The UK does not have a God-given right in the international student recruitment market

“Our bellicose rhetoric and criticism of UK immigration policy is simply picked up and repeated in the press overseas as criticism of the UK and of our universities”

Vincenzo Raimo, director of the international office at The University of Nottingham, writes about how poor lobbying tactics can damage the UK’s reputation abroad, and the complex factors impacting on Indian students’ decision to study in the UK.

Thank goodness the University of East Anglia’s Edward Acton, who said that Home Office rhetoric on immigration was having “a horrible, negative effect” on international student recruitment, is on his way out. But how do we stop other Vice-Chancellors going on about visas as if they’re the only reason numbers are down from India?
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There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ international strategy

“You can’t assume that your domestic marketing strategy can be applied internationally with the same level of success”

Dan Sommer, Education Marketing Expert and President of Global Education, Zeta Interactive, considers some of the challenges university officials must consider when building effective regional strategies.

Over the past 12 months, universities have experienced declining enrolment numbers for a variety of reasons: demographic shifts; an improving economy; increasing competition from both for-profit institutions and more traditional schools; and the influx of disruptive technologies and learning platforms. University officials are now tasked with looking at creative ways to counterbalance declining domestic enrolment numbers.

In the past, university leaders have been forced to consider things like adjusting discount rates or modifying quality standards to meet financial objectives when tackling declining domestic enrolment. Now, however, increasing international recruitment is a meaningful alternative to consider and one that we see as a top five priority for most university leadership teams.

Going international represents an opportunity for institutions to maintain tuition while counterbalancing declining numbers, but it presents an array of challenges to marketing and admissions teams. You can’t assume that your domestic marketing strategy can be applied internationally with the same level of success.

There Is No Such Thing As A ‘One Size Fits All’ International Strategy

When expanding to international markets, it is important to understand the regional differences that might impact your success. Developing an awareness of how your brand will fit in different regions is key. Further, some regions are more price conscious then others and may require differential pricing or scholarship options to overcome financial barriers. Thus, as you develop an international strategy, the first step is to dive deep into the educational landscape of the country you are entering.

“As you develop an international strategy, the first step is to dive deep into the educational landscape of the country you are entering”

Finding the Right Product Market Fit

A number of factors should be considered when launching particular programmes. For example, there are regions that have truly embraced online programmes (the UK), while others take a more mixed position (Canada). Yet others do not currently recognise or support online learning (certain regions in Asia). In developing your strategy, understanding both consumer and government acceptance of online learning is key. Based upon what you uncover, you might consider a strategy that focuses on a hybrid model with some classroom learning and some online, or a or periodic campus immersion experience with the majority of learning online, with limited face to face campus time. I have seen the latter be highly effective for South American recruitment.

Institutions should also consider whether additional contact hours or local student support is needed to enhance the learning experience. If your programmes are taught in English and you are in regions where English is secondary, you may need to deploy additional tutors to offset the potential learning gap.

“It’s important to consider whether your programmes are fully relevant to local conditions and economies”

Finally, it’s important to consider whether your programmes are fully relevant to local conditions and economies. While the MBA is currently the most popular programme internationally, each region may have preferences regarding specialisations (e.g. entrepreneurship vs. Islamic Finance). It is dangerous to assume that the programme that works so well in the US will work equally as well in every region.

Selecting The Right Marketing And Recruitment Partners

In an ideal scenario, it would be possible to generate all of your international inquiries within your marketing department or with your existing partners. The reality is there are many nuances to local student recruitment. For example, if you plan to recruit students in Russia and CIS, selecting a partner with Yandex experience is key. If you are utilising email marketing services, does your partner understand local privacy regulations? There are thousands of new media outlets to consider, from local, SEO-driven education directories to highly targeted regional publications that the right partners can introduce into your marketing mix.

Further down the ‘funnel’ are call centre partnerships (locally and with regional expertise) that can play an important role in qualifying traffic. US institutions often attempt to call new web leads within 120 seconds, but this may not play well in some regions. Language and tempo may also need to be altered on a regional basis and can be the difference between success and failure in new markets.

The Devil is In the Details

Last, but certainly not least, is the question of whether your institution has the operational infrastructure to qualify and enrol international students. Often, institutions create separate units to manage lead flow and applications from international students. Developing the infrastructure that will allow for the proper vetting of candidates (e.g. understanding whether local credentials meet admissions standards, language qualification, and even consideration of prerequisites) can be highly complex.

In addition, local currencies and exchange rates could present a number of challenges for your finance team. Many institutions consider outsourcing aspects of the enrolment process, which can help to reduce some of the complexities.

Dan Sommer is an education marketing expert. He is the President of Global Education at Zeta Interactive,  a leading digital marketing company that helps global brands to acquire, engage and retain customers. Dan has helped dozens of universities to innovate and achieve success through innovative marketing acquisition, retention, engagement and partnership programs. 

Homestay: the make-or-break part of a student’s study experience

“A school can provide PhD-level teachers, gold-plated desks, a perfect nationality mix, and 100% graduation rates. None of that matters if the student is getting what looks like dog food for dinner”

Cam Harvey, owner of Working With Agents Consulting, writes about the importance of open and honest communication in a strong agent-school partnership – one that always puts the health and strength of their relationship first.

“I’m fascinated by the stories in international education. And there are stories out there. Lots of highly emotional stories.  Each one often has multiple, emotionally charged versions depending on who is telling it – the school, the student, the parent, or the agent.
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Tighter regulation in Canada will act as a seal of quality for international students

“The new act will be a key protector of international students’ rights. It will make all institutions, both private and public, accountable”

The International Education Act was given royal assent Canada’s the Manitoba legislature last month. Susan Deane, college director and principal of the International College Manitoba, a Navitas pathway college, explains how the legislation will help bolster quality by making institutions accountable.

“In 2012, the Canadian International Education Advisory Panel recommended increasing Canada’s international student numbers from 265,000 to more than 400,000 within 10 years.

Though progress has been made in recent years, the size of the Manitoba international student population still lags behind other provinces. British Columbia, for instance, accounted for 25 per cent of Canada’s international student population, while Manitoba claimed only three per cent.

Now, thanks to new legislation, the province of Manitoba has the leverage to attract more students from around the world by demonstrating that international education in Manitoba is of the best quality and is maintained by stringent standards: Bill 44, the International Education Act, was given royal assent in the Manitoba legislature Dec. 5. The legislation will act as a seal of quality to show prospective international students and their families that Manitoba provides education worth investing in.

The International Education Act would establish a code of conduct for institutions that educate international students, creating consistent high standards across the province. This will set requirements on recruitment methods, course quality and student supports, and will aim to prevent misleading or deceptive conduct in relation to international students.

It will also mean that an education provider must be approved to enrol international students. Lists of non-complying providers and recruiters will be made public.

Accountability has always been a top priority for the International College of Manitoba (ICM), and for this reason we welcome the International Education Act. ICM has a recognition agreement with the University of Manitoba whereby it offers the equivalent of first year university on the University of Manitoba campus to international students in a supportive environment. Upon successful completion, students enter second year in regular classes at the University of Manitoba. This soft landing helps students move successfully to a Canadian learning environment.

ICM has more than 850 students, and we’ve educated students from more than 72 countries. A further 825 students have completed the ICM program, 95 per cent of whom have been admitted to the University of Manitoba. These are high-achieving individuals worthy of our support.

“Canada has long lagged behind other top international education destinations in the regulation for international students”

The new act will also be a key protector of international students’ rights. It will make all institutions, both private and public, accountable — something Navitas, ICM’s parent company, has been doing for many years.

Canada has long lagged behind other top international education destinations in the regulation for international students. The International Education Act will start to elevate Manitoba to international standards, building the province’s reputation as a high-quality education destination.

As the flow of international students into Manitoba increases, the creation of an industry benchmark for international education, and the protection of student’s rights, will become ever more important.”

Accreditation for an independent, single-site language school: the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages

This week, the deadline passed for the US’s Intensive English Programs to be accredited in order to issue student visas. Nate Freedman, Campus Director at Boston-based Language Skills, gives a first-person account of the accreditation process of an independent, single-site language school. 

James Stakenburg, Head of Teacher Training at Rennert, recently presented his case study of going through the accreditation process (The PIE News, October 25), stating that “the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages”. And as the accreditation deadline draws closer, we are continuing to hear from both members of the accrediting bodies and the schools they accredit on the challenges and benefits of accreditation.

From the perspective of an independent, single-site language school, where administrators and faculty already “wear many hats”, adding the task of accreditation, which requires a comprehensive review of the entire program, poses so many challenges that during the application process the potential benefits of being accredited can seem distant and unattainable. Throughout our journey to accreditation, we asked ourselves many times: will the advantages of accreditation really outweigh the disadvantages?

Well, now that Language Skills has received initial accreditation with CEA, the benefits are becoming clear, and I can begin to reflect on the question of whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Advantages: Our faculty loves the improvements to the program. Clearly written syllabi and curricula with relevant course goals and student learning outcomes make their jobs easier and more enjoyable. Improved faculty orientation and ongoing professional development provides greater job satisfaction. Upon hiring our newest instructors, we heard a lot of, “wow, I am so impressed with how organized you guys are!”

Students also enjoy the increased structure and relevancy of their courses, and it allows us to market the program with greater confidence. No longer do we believe our quality is on-par with international and multi-site programs, but we have evidence to show it.

Disadvantages: Along with being a language school, we can’t forget that we are also a small business! Maintaining a healthy small business requires the careful allocation of resources, and finding the resources to go through and now maintain accreditation was and continues to be our biggest challenge. Mr. Stakenburg admitted that Rennert “took someone off their regular job full-time for three months and most staff had extra work to do as well” to prepare for accreditation. We too had to find creative ways to meet the demands of accreditation with limited resources.

Yet, as I’m sure many of The PIE News readers can attest to, working with limited resources is not something only schools of our size and model face, and that all US language schools facing the December deadline of accreditation will see unique challenges and benefits.

In our case, accreditation has already opened new marketing channels and increased employee and student satisfaction, and we have managed to do it all with our own internal resources. It appears that Mr. Stakenburg’s claim was right: even for independent, single-site language schools like ours, the advantages of accreditation still outweigh the disadvantages.

Are pig trotters the best we have to offer China?

“Providing young people with opportunities to live and work in the UK is likely to do far more to build an appreciation of ‘British norms and values’ than bungled conversations between the prime minister and Chinese officials”

“Nothing says ‘declining international influence’ like heralding a deal to export pig semen and trotters as ‘doing all we can to ensure that businesses up and down the country reap the rewards from our relationship with China’.

In the week that David Cameron led the UK’s largest ever trade visit to Beijing, new research by IPPR shows the UK has a much better export offer to make.  China sends out more international students than any other country in the world. And as China’s economy grows, so does demand for international education.

Using such trips to encourage more Chinese students to study in the UK would be a ‘win-win’ for China and the UK. The UK’s education sector is globally renowned. But its funding structures are in a mess. Billions of pounds in student loans are likely to go unpaid. Last week the government had to stop some universities offering places to UK students due to a lack of funding. The government pledged in the autumn statement to lift the overall cap on UK students in 2015. But there are serious question marks over how this will be funded. In this context, international students provide vital revenue. The Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) estimate that they contribute over £13 billion to the UK economy each year, generating 70,000 jobs and keeping courses like maths and engineering viable. And there is room for growth: BIS estimates that the number of international students in UK higher education can increase by 15-20 percent over the next five years. In addition, providing young people with opportunities to live and work in the UK is likely to do far more to build an appreciation of ‘British norms and values’ than bungled conversations between the prime minister and Chinese officials.

Yet we heard nothing from David Cameron about this. The UK’s competitors, such as Australia and France have streamlined their visa processes and put together packages such as improved work rights to entice globally mobile Chinese people to study in their institutions. But the UK has done the opposite. The UK’s ‘post-study work’ route was closed in 2011. Application requirements have been made more convoluted. Education providers are being forced out by the cost of meeting strict regulations. Despite significant global growth, the overall number of international students coming to the UK to study has dropped from 245,000 a year in 2010 to just 176,000 a year.

The Government claims that the lower numbers are a result of tough action against ‘bogus students’. But the Home Office’s own analysis shows that ‘bogus students’ only account for a small part of this reduction. Rather, the reductions in student numbers are because of the government’s commitment to reduce net migration to the UK. International students comprise one third of all immigrants to the UK. In order to reduce immigration, the government have to drastically reduce the number of international students. While there is an argument to be had about reducing migration for other reasons, reducing the number of genuine students is directly against the UK’s best interests and is causing profound damage to a vital export industry. Importantly, this is an issue on which government, the education sector and public all agree on: 68% of British people want to see the number of migrants coming to study at UK universities maintained or increased.

The government faces a difficult problem balancing support for the education sector with responding to public concern about immigration. However, the policies the Coalition is pursuing are achieving neither. Instead, the government need to commit to increasing international student numbers by implementing a package of measures to attract the brightest and best while clamping down on abuse and ensuring that students contribute to life in the UK. Not to mention, promoting the UK’s colleges internationally. This will allow the UK to retain its reputation as a world leader in quality education, as well as provider of porcine products.”

Jenny Pennington is Researcher at IPPR. She tweets at @JennyIPPR

10 essential things to consider when choosing a US University

Dustin Daniels at Florida State University on 10 things international students should know before choosing to study in the USA:

1. Location and Culture

The first thing to know about the American university system is that there are over 4,000 colleges and universities to choose from. These sites of higher education range from small liberal arts colleges to large public research universities, specialized community colleges, and many others in between! I’d say two of the most common kinds of universities are those found in more urban city centres and those found in more rural ‘college towns’.

Going to school in the city can be a very rewarding experience, as the city life can help complement your time as student and add a layer of cultural discovery to your collegiate career. On the other hand, it might also dilute or convolute your time as well, as the hustle and bustle can sometimes build a wedge between you and the university student experience. Likewise, a ‘college town’ is typically a place where you can find a small community coalescing around a university as its main focal point and lifeblood. There is something to be said for this kind of school, but it might also mean you don’t have access to the amenities or the diversity of a large city.

2. University Pride and Alumni Network

One of the amazing aspects of the US university system is the great pride and enthusiasm that folks develop for their school. This pride often starts with competitive sports programs, but also manifests in many other areas. It isn’t uncommon, for instance, for students to wear university apparel, attend university events, and rejoice in university achievement, whether it be a sports championship or a faculty member winning a research award. Pride for your university allows you to build powerful relationships that often transcend generations, backgrounds and ideologies. It allows you to feel part of a greater community; a feeling that you quite frankly cannot put a price on.

With this university pride comes an alumni network. These networks are used to help people continue to stay connected to their university, while also allowing for professional development and advancement. It isn’t uncommon for graduates in the US to get their first job as a result of connections or information provided by a university’s alumni network. When picking the best school for you, you ought to consider the kind of network that will stand behind your degree and help you get where you want to go.

3. Public and Private Universities

There are two types of universities in the US: public and private. The main differences between the two are the prestige of studying at a private university over a public one, and the cost which obviously is much cheaper at a public university. A year of classes of public tuition costs around $3,500 (around £2,250) whilst some private universities charge well over ten times that. A public university also has a large number of students, which may suit someone who thrives in a social educational environment. Private universities have smaller classes and allow students to forge closer relationships with their tutors.

4. Scholarships and Funding

When looking at how to pay for a US education, your focus should then turn to scholarships and funding.  Not all US universities offer scholarships to international students and government loans can’t always be applied to paying for and tuition and fees. Despite this, increasing fees for university around the world have made the U.S. university system quite competitive comparatively to other countries around Europe. One of the most important things to look at is the OVERALL cost of going to a particular university: specifically tuition and fees, on-campus or off-campus accommodation, cost of living in the location of the university, etc. One of the most confusing traps I have seen international students fall into is being distracted by only looking at tuition fees or the kind of scholarship universities offer. Here is a typical scenario:

University A is a public research university located in a small city. It costs $40,000 a year to attend, including accommodation and tuition. University B is a private university located centrally in a large city. It costs $100,000 to attend for all accommodation and fees, but it offers a 50% scholarship to all international students.

As you can see, even with no scholarships, university A would be a better choice from a funding standpoint.

5. Liberal Arts Education: Majors, Minors and Credits

Liberal Arts colleges and universities provide specialised education in the basic disciplines of humanities, plus social and behavioural sciences. They offer a huge range of potential Major subjects, including Political Science, Religion and Sociology. All universities will also allow you to study a Minor subject if you so desire. Some Majors even allow a Minor to take the place of supporting coursework. Each Major and Minor requires a certain level of credits that need to be achieved to qualify for a degree. The definition of a credit can be difficult for someone who has not been born in the U.S. to get their head around. Credits are awarded for the time you spend studying or in class. If you have already attended University in the UK, you should be able to transfer some credits across.

6. Internships & Undergraduate Research

Internships and Undergraduate Research programs are where companies sponsor students to go to university in the hope of securing them as employees once their studies have finished. This is an excellent way of securing financial backing for your studies, and some companies will even help with accommodation and transport. It’s not all study though – some companies will expect you to work for them as well, particularly during breaks.

7. Rankings

When choosing a university, the rankings that are produced by several independent institutions are a good place to start, but should be viewed with a grain of salt. These rankings can tell you about certain qualities of schools, but can leave out some vital information such as student satisfaction, engagement, and alumni performance. They can also be biased towards smaller universities that focus on a few key subject areas. Many times students think that the ‘Ivy League’ schools are the only ones worth considering, when many non-Ivy schools are collectively and in many individual programs more well-regarded. At the end of the day, US universities all over the country are known for something, so make sure to cast a wide net.

8. The US Student Experience

The main difference between being a US student and a UK student is that whilst the UK student is encouraged to be an expert in a single field, a US student is more likely to become successful if they can exhibit a breadth of knowledge. On the social side of things, students in the U.S. are much more likely to spend time together, especially on campus. Many students will live on campus for all four years of their degree. Eating and playing sports together and being members of sororities and fraternities is a big part of university education.

9. SAT & ACT

Many times students wonder whether their secondary school program, whether it be an IB diploma, A-Levels, Advanced Placement, etc. allows them to forgo taking their SAT or ACT tests. The answer is almost always NO! Because U.S. schools have students from all over the world applying, it is hard to fairly compare them. After all, a student’s achievements in Canada vs. in Italy may be completely different. This is where the SAT or ACT come in. These standardized tests focus on general knowledge and skills in math, verbal reasoning, writing and science, though each is slightly different. They are usually required for all students as a way for the university to compare students effectively and to predict how they are likely to do in their first years of studying. Few universities waive this requirement, but some do let you postpone taking the exam until after admission.

10. Cultural Capital & Global Consciousness

US universities do their best not to promote cultural capital and to treat all students equally, no matter their social status. However, outside of the lecture halls and classrooms students from poorer backgrounds may find themselves at a disadvantage, and be looked down upon by those more socially fortunate.

More information on Florida State’s International Gateway Program can be found at http://www.fsu-gateway-program.co.uk, where they offer some useful tips of their own for any potential students.


Paying for an International Education – Expensive: Yes. Easy to Understand: No

An interesting take on HSBC’s research that indicated Australia tops the league of costly study destinations…

“The cost for international students to acquire a degree has become a more and more debated issue.  One reason is that the worldwide revenues attributable to international higher education have reached around USD 120-140 billion.  When schooling, language, and vocational training are added in, total revenues are estimated to exceed USD 200 billion (ICG, 2013).  International education has become a large, global business.

Costs for individual students to participate in international education of course vary widely.  One year of high quality academic language or higher education studies can run from as little as USD 14,000 to more than USD 60,000.  Understanding these costs has attracted attention, most recently in an overview published by HSBC which received widespread media coverage.

Flawed and unrealistic

Unfortunately, the data presented by HSBC appear to be both flawed and unrealistic.  For one, many international students are required to demonstrate a minimum level of funding in order to obtain a study permit.  To indicate student cost of living amounts which run significantly under such thresholds is not helpful, and would clash with legal requirements.

In addition, some cost of living data presented by HSBC simply bears little relation to actual cost of living as established by respective higher education institutions, governmental bodies, and other research.

For example: Germany can be a “cheap” country to study in for international students, but a monthly cost of living level of USD 524 as indicated by HSBC does not map remotely to the reality of living in cities which are home to Germany’s ten largest universities (which include Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, and Munich).

Rent alone in these cities would reach or exceed this cost level (the average rent for students in Germany is USD 406.  Source: 20. Sozialerhebung by the Studentenwerk (a report sponsored by the German government).

10 institutions hardly representative

HSBC’s tuition research was based on scoping a country’s ten largest institutions by enrollment.  This is hardly a representative sample in a country such as the United States, which is home to more than 4,000 higher education institutions, nor does this relate to international enrollments.

Not surprisingly, the supposed tuition averages indicated for many countries are neither an accurate portrayal of average fees, nor particularly helpful.

International students in the United States can find themselves courted by institutions which will offer full scholarships while most others will be asked to pay annual tuition fees exceeding USD 30,000.  Anyone fortunate enough to be admitted to Columbia University faces a tuition bill of nearly USD 47,000 per year.

Getting it right

Getting it right requires a bit more of an effort.  Earlier this year, ICG completed a commissioned research project on international tuition fees which took nearly 2,200 hours to complete.

Results have been presented at various conferences, including EAIE and AIEC conference in Canberra (the EAIE presentation can be accessed at ICG’s homepage under September Updates, www.illuminategroup.com).

The outcome of this research is contained in the International Tuition-Based Competition Database (ITBCD) which contains tuition fees for more than 7,000 individual undergraduate and graduate degree programs, added fees per program, and actual cost of living calculations.

The latter alone required 400 hours of research and analysis.  The point is that an international comparison of tuition fees and cost of living requires many data points, a proper methodology, and a recognition that supposed averages can be utterly misleading.

What this research shows is that the total cost of obtaining the most popular degree amongst international students – a Bachelor of Commerce or Business – at a ranked international university ranges from USD 120,000 to nearly 300,000.  Most degrees required an investment of USD 150,000 at minimum.

International students who enroll in non-tuition systems such as universities in Germany will still face a minimum investment of USD 45,000 into cost of living in most major cities.  Clearly, for most international students it is not cheap and possibly very expensive to study away from home.

With the aforementioned caveat of not using averages to make too many assumptions, countries can be broadly characterized as follows.

–       Australia overall is a highly expensive country which nonetheless can provide good outcomes to its graduates.

–       The United States is characterized by the widest spread of costs from quite reasonable to very expensive, and institutions ranging from world leading universities to little more than vocational training institutions.

–       Canada’s international tuition fees are often below the corresponding mean, but cost of living in Vancouver and Toronto has negated this advantage largely.

–       New Zealand offers good value (outside of Auckland) based mostly on its moderate tuition fees, though some program fees appear to be poised for notable upticks.

–       The United Kingdom offers middle-of-the road tuition fees costs with London setting a high cost note for both fees and cost of living.

–       The Netherlands offers lower-end tuition fees with middling cost of living levels, offering overall a compelling value proposition.

–       Germany offers great value based on its no-tuition fee setting, but much less outcome.

With a consortium of universities having signed on to ITBCD, we expect to publish updated results in the spring of 2014.  In the meantime, the only safe assumption is that being an international student will be more expensive in 2014 than it was in 2013.

Daniel J. Guhr is Managing Director of the Illuminate Consulting Group in the USA.