As we stride into 2023 and look forward to more students arriving to our shores, I have taken this opportunity to reflect on what we, the international education sector, have learned over the past year and how this will inform our actions going forward.
After three years of pandemic-related uncertainty and social isolation, what rose to the surface in 2022 was the basic need for human connection.
In this article, I will share insights into why we are moving away from quick technology fixes that played a role in the pandemic, to a long-term sustainable approach based on the needs of students, and how we, as a sector, can ensure students are best positioned to achieve their life-changing goals.
Throughout the pandemic, our industry showed resilience and creativity.
When travel was restricted and institution representatives could no longer sit across the table from a student and their parents to have real conversations about what to expect with this brave new chapter, we at IDP were able to bridge that gap.
It was clear our institution partners needed us more than ever to be on the ground, supporting students and relaying their needs. Understandably, with international mobility limited, our industry also looked to new models to attract international students.
Technology-based solutions that connected institutions to a network of agents emerged as an easy option for recruitment to continue. While the models lacked end-to-end student support, they did provide institutions with access to volume during a period of uncertainty.
Our latest research revealed that, even though students are now able to pursue their in-person overseas education with more choice, they are facing new challenges when they arrive onshore. Having a place to turn to for advice on navigating life in a new country is critical.
What we learned, which is something we always knew, is that students and institutions value having trusted and experienced agents that can ensure that students receive advice from experts who have the student’s needs and objectives at the core of the service model. Providing this end-to-end support is not a nice-to-have; it is arguably the key to a successful outcome for both students and institutions.
As our world reopened, our challenge at IDP was to scale our human-centric services to help more students, across more channels, navigate their application challenges amid country visa backlogs, and as I’ll explain later, equip them to deal with new challenges when they arrive onshore. We’ve continued to invest in technology and customer research, to ensure our trusted human connections on a global scale are strengthened.
We also shifted our services to a true hybrid model that moved administrative processes like document scanning to a smartphone app, giving our counsellors and students more time for the important conversations that matter.
Pleasingly for us, students responded favourably to these enhancements. Across the board, students showed their trust in IDP, with our global metric for measuring satisfaction (Net Promoter Score) increasing a further 4 points across the year.
This response from students has given us confidence that our strategy, which centres around human connections and using technology to improve that experience, not the other way around, is the right thing for our students, teams and partners.
This approach has infused our growth strategy. Our growing counselling teams around the world are expanding our presence, ensuring more students receive the best possible guidance, and more institutions can achieve an on-the-ground understanding of our students’ needs.
The importance of support and connection was reinforced by students when we released our Emerging Futures II research in October 2022.
The research, which canvassed the views of more than 11,000 students, painted a complex picture of student intentions, as students prioritized return on investment and quality of education.
For the first time, the research also looked at the experience of newly-enrolled students, comparing prospective student expectations with the reality of studying overseas.
While most of the students who had commenced their studies were generally positive about their experience, there were significant trends across all destinations around financial support, and juggling the demands of work and study expectations.
The research also identified a correlation between poor mental health and students working either fewer than 10 hours or more than 40 hours per two weeks, as well as those living alone or off campus.
Mental health issues were also found to be impacting students’ ability to succeed academically, with three-quarters stating that it had impacted their ability to study. To me, this hit home. And we are committed to doing something about it.
This year IDP will launch Thrive, a new program that will be piloted in Australia, to connect students to mentors, services and people they trust when they arrive to study.
The most important part of Thrive is introducing students to peer-to-peer support communities so they can connect with others who have walked in their shoes.
Thrive is one of the many enhancements to student well-being that I am proud to see IDP implementing next year.
While I believe there is still more to do, there are many other organizations and institutions introducing quality services that I hope will support more students in achieving their goals.
As we came back together for face-to-face events, I was reminded that we are united in our goal to help determined people change their lives through education.
Now, we are mostly in a post-pandemic world yet facing new challenges; our sector has a responsibility to respond to the changing needs of students, and use the opportunity to work together to advance the support we offer them at every stage of their educational journey.
The role we play in connecting students to international opportunities has the potential to transform their lives and positively impact their wider communities.
I can’t wait to work with you this year to do more to make sure these global citizens are in a position to truly thrive.