23 / 04 / 2019

Successful marketing to foreign students


Chris Hodgen




The Guardian reported in 2018 that foreign applications to study in the UK are increasing[i]. However, two factors that are at odds with the aim to secure more student enrolments, are firstly the government tightening up immigration restrictions and secondly the uncertainty of Brexit.

It will always be the case that some foreign students may wish to study in the UK purely in order to gain access to the UK. This is a problem, but it's not your problem. All you need to be concerned with is that they should choose your place of learning and not some other one.

The important thing is to make your marketing inclusive of all potential students, both foreign and domestic. This will become increasingly vital as the market grows ever-more competitive[ii].

Understand the factors that are most important to foreign students

The priorities for students coming from other countries are often different in comparison to the priorities of domestic students. You need to tailor marketing messages that address the right priorities when attempting to attract foreign students, while at the same time you must avoid any negative effect upon domestic students.

For example, the marketing message should in no way imply that foreign students will have an advantage over domestic students. That would, in turn, downgrade your attractiveness to domestic students, which most likely make up the majority of the student body, except in special cases such as language institutes.

Some of the factors most important to foreign students include:

  • On campus safety and security
  • Actively enforced non-discrimination policies
  • Availability of specialist support staff to assist with administrative matters
  • Availability of specialist support staff to assist with academic matters
  • Availability of translators, even when English proficiency is a prerequisite
  • Academic reputation
  • Opportunities for employment (on campus and off campus)
  • Availability and standard of accommodation (on campus and off campus)
  • Facilities available at the campus
  • Attractiveness of the local area
  • Provision for online and distance education

Notice that safety and security is listed as the number one priority. This is because foreign students in many locations have been subjected to harassment and intimidation, including serious assaults. Fortunately, these attacks are rare, but when they do happen, they receive a lot of media attention, particularly in the home country of the victim.

Every campus must take security seriously for all students, whether foreign or domestic. This is because there is an implied trust relationship between the student and the place of learning.

When students suffer harm, that trust relationship is strained, because the education provider may be seen as having failed in a fundamental duty of care.

Always cover the essentials

Knowing what matters to international students is the starting point for an international marketing campaign, but then you have to implement the essential criteria into your message.

Be sure to mention all the things that you know will be important to the target demographic. It will be even better if you can support your message with real life example and genuine testimonials, allowing your prospective students to vicariously experience campus life and visualise themselves in their future role.

Engaging audiences in this way is a powerful mechanism for converting prospective students into actual students.

Globalise your messages

Even if your courses require English language proficiency as a prerequisite, it is still the best practice to translate your marketing message into other languages. Firstly, this shows that you are a considerate education provider, and also it must be taken into account that prospective students aren’t the only ones who will be reading or listening to your message.

For imagery, it can be a good idea to show students of various ethnicities (including the specific target demographic) in a cooperative and harmonious environment.

One additional thing to consider is that different cultures have different views about education and the marketing message should be regionally tailored. What works in Canada or New Zealand may not necessarily work in India or Singapore.

Choose a professional marketing partner specialising in education

In today’s world, marketing messages are permanent, persisting long after the original campaign was implemented. Mistakes can still be costly many years after they were made, which is why mistakes must be avoided.

The best way to avoid mistakes is to work with a marketing partner that has a rich depth of experience in education marketing, being aware of all the potential risk factors and knowing how to avoid them.

Your professional marketing partner also knows the best ways to create influential marketing for different campaign demographics, so you can always play to your strengths in each individual market segment.

Absolute Agency is a company that has worked on digital transformation projects for several large universities, during which they have talked to over 1 million students and delivered over 75 hours of stakeholder focus groups. They are dedicated to understanding the needs of the people they want to reach through their marketing efforts, so that they can produce marketing power that delivers results. They have developed a strong portfolio in education marketing that will help their clients see better results for their marketing investment.

If you would like to talk to us about how Absolute could help you get the most out of your education marketing, please call us on 01204 669566 or send us a message through our contact form and we’ll be in touch.

[i] Weale, Sally. University Applications Fall despite Surge in Foreign Students. The Guardian.
April 04, 2018. Accessed October 22, 2018

[i] Baker, Mike. Growing Competition between Universities Is Changing Student Life. The Economist.
February 23, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2018.