International Higher Education

Open Doors 2017 and the Need for Timely International Student Data

Taking a holistic approach to analyzing data and trends for international student recruitment

The Institute for International Education released their Open Doors 2017 data on November 13th, covering the enrollment statistics of international students studying in the U.S. during the 2016/17 academic year. Since the fall 2016 enrollment period, the U.S. has experienced major shifts in political leadership, tighter visa and immigration policies, and increased competition from emerging destination markets. Has the international landscape shifted too much to rely on 2016/17 international student data to inform future recruitment and marketing strategies?

Not entirely. The Open Doors 2017 report corroborates how economic events from the 2015/16 academic year have impacted 2016/17 enrollments; and therefore, can help higher education institutions (HEI’s) predict how events over the past year will affect 2018/19 enrollments. For instance, due to economic factors over 2015/16, Brazil suspended, and Saudi Arabia tightened, their government scholarship programs, both of which were huge push factors for their students to study in the U.S. The effects of these events can be seen in the 2016/17 enrollments numbers, with Brazilian student enrollment decreasing by 32.4%, and Saudi student enrollment decreasing by 14.2%.

Another consideration when using the Open Doors 2017 data to inform future international recruitment strategy is to not take the international student enrollment numbers at face value. For instance, there was a 3.4% increase in international students between the 2015/16 and 2016/17 academic years; but students enrolling for the first time at a U.S. institution in fall 2016 decreased by 3.3%. This decline occurred before the controversial events that have taken place in the U.S. over the past year, which suggests the decline is due to increased global competition.

While Open Doors is valuable for highlighting past trends, HEI’s must also leverage current data to inform future recruitment strategies.

Recruitment strategy in action: A deep dive into Indian international student data

The Open Doors 2017 report indicates an overall 12.3% increase in Indian student enrollments between 2015/16 and 2016/17. Digging a bit deeper, the increase for Indian students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs was only 4.1%. Even more, this data doesn’t speak to how Indian students were affected by major events that took place in the U.S. over the past year.

While Open Doors data shows past enrollment trends, the Hotcourses Insights Tool uncovers real-time data on students in the pre-enrollment, research stage of their journey. The Insights Tool aggregates data from the annual 37 million international students that use Hotcourses’ international sites to research prospective international universities. Using the Insights Tool, we are able to see the shifts within the Indian student market over the past three years.

The graph above highlights the shift in Indian student interest from the United States in the 2015/16 academic year to Canada in the 2016/17 academic year. During the same period, there was a 53.7% increase in Indian students researching international colleges and universities on Hotcourses sites. Here in lies the opportunity. While there are external factors working against HEI’s in the U.S., the demand for international education is continuing to grow. U.S. institutions must adopt more proactive marketing and communications strategies to compete with the practices of destination markets that have not had the advantage that comes with being the number one destination market for international students.

Taking a strategic approach to international recruitment and marketing strategy

The decline in the Brazilian and Saudi student populations has underlined the need to diversify recruitment efforts, to hedge against economic and political events. With Open Doors 2017 indicating that China and India represent 50% of the international student population in the U.S., HEI’s are in an extremely vulnerable position unless diversification is made a priority.

While the tightening of budgets makes travelling to more international markets difficult, the internet is omnipresent and is the number one channel students use to research international HEI’s. In April 2017, Hotcourses Group surveyed 2,500 international students around the world to understand their preferences when researching international colleges and universities. The survey found that international students across all of the markets prefer engagement channels where they are able to gather the information on their own, versus connect directly with the institution. The blue squares in the chart below indicate the top engagement preference for each international market:

International Student engagement preferences broken down by market

HEI’s must take a multi-pronged approach to online marketing and communications. The survey found that international students begin their research journey on search engines, but over 50 percent of respondents also used social media, university research sites, and university websites to seek out information.

Key takeaways: Leveraging data to inform international recruitment strategy

  • Diversify your methodology
  • Online content is critical
  • Determine and verify real trends
  • Adjust your approach
  • Always be listening to what students are telling us

If you would like to learn how Hotcourses can help your institution with planning, content creation, expanding reach, and diversifying your international recruitment and marketing strategy, email


About Hotcourses Group

We inspire people to learn for a better future

Hotcourses offers the leading education search and enrollment solutions in the industry. We provide over 78 million future students annually with unique online tools and informative content, from the early stages of research, right the way through to securing a place at an institution. Our partner institutions benefit from market intelligence to help them better understand prospective students and domestic and international student trends. We then provide platforms for them to influence and connect with future students, all the way through to enrollment. Our technology enables our partner institutions to track enrolled students back to Hotcourses products, helping to determine their return on investment.

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