International Higher Education

The Future of Student Recruitment: event synopsis

Forming part of our recent relaunch as IDP Connect (formerly Hotcourses Group), we hosted the Future of Student Recruitment conference at the Barbican Centre on Thursday, the 31st of January. With over 200 attendees, there were guests from various universities and agencies across the UK. It was a jam-packed schedule centred on Higher Education (HE) and comprising of panel discussions, dialogues and presentations. Speakers included Michael Arthur (President & Provost, UCL), Joy Elliott-Bowman (Director of Policy & Development, Independent HE), Stephanie Harris (Policy Manager, Universities UK International), James Frith (MP for Bury North and member of the Education Select Committee) and members of the Whatuni Student Advisory Board.

Augur review & Brexit

The day started with a welcome note by Simon Emmett, CEO of IDP Connect, followed by an overview by IDP Connect senior staff members on the rebrand and its significance to the sector. Presentations covered the company’s key brand pillars, the importance of putting students’ needs first and building products and services collaboratively with students and clients.

Next on the agenda was a dynamic dialogue between Mark Leach, Editor in Chief of Wonkhe, and Prof Michael Arthur on the shape of the sector. Prof. Arthur spoke about the need for a cultural shift in how Higher and Further Education are viewed, the stabilising role that the HE sector will play in post-Brexit Britain and threats posed by the Augur review, and the importance for institutions of diversifying international student recruitment efforts to include markets beyond China and India.

Mark Leach (Editor in Chief of Wonkhe) and Prof Michael Arthur (President & Provost, UCL).

Mark Leach (Editor in Chief of Wonkhe) and Prof Michael Arthur (President & Provost, UCL).

Clearing trends

After a short break, guests had a choice between attending the international or domestic (UK) streams of the programme. Stuart Smith, Director of Product at IDP Connect, started the domestic agenda with a deep dive into the Clearing 2018 landscape. He drew on key trends from the UCAS 2018 cycle, pointing out that 67,000 students were placed during Clearing with a 2,9% increase compared to 2017. He then looked at the growth seen on the Whatuni and Complete University Guide websites during Clearing 2018, before presenting a brand-new product: Whatuni Go. Stuart explained that Whatuni Go is a self-serve digital platform aimed at seamlessly matching students to institutions during Clearing. To find out more, sign up for our webinar on the 12th of February.

Student Advisory Board

Next up was the much-anticipated panel discussion with members of the Whatuni Student Advisory Board. Hosted by Aaron Porter, Director of Policy and Engagement at IDP Connect, the panellists spoke about their respective recruitment experiences and what they found useful particularly at open days and on university websites. One of the panellists spoke about how helpful it was for him to be able to talk to students at an open day who were studying what he was hoping to study. Brexit – a common theme throughout the day – was discussed in detail with one panellist highlighting how it represents a critical juncture in home students’ lives and something that would follow them for the rest of their lives. On that note, panellist Siletokuhle Sibanda urged universities to involve students more in resolving issues such as Brexit.

Whatuni Student Advisory Board

Whatuni Student Advisory Board: panel discussion.


Engaging students, policy changes & real-time data

The international stream started with a presentation by Danielle Lapham, Associate Head of Campaign Marketing and SEO at IDP Connect, and Erica da Rocha, Associate Head of Campaign Marketing & CRM at IDP Connect, on how to engage international students in a digital age. Drawing on IDP Connect’s various student-facing websites, their presentation outlined tried-and-tested strategies used to better engage prospective students.

The next speaker was Stephanie Harris of Universities UK talking about visa applications, enrolments and policy change in the UK and looking at what past trends can tell us about the future. She outlined trends including EU and non-EU international student applications, types of applications (e.g. postgraduate vs. first degree) and student intake from Russell Group vs. non-Russell Group institutions.

The pre-lunch slot was hosted by Jonah Duffin, Chief Marketing Officer at IDP Connect, who spoke about how IDP Connect data can help institutions build their portfolios and guide their marketing strategies. He showed how individual institutions are able to hone in on real-time data and trends specific to their needs and looked at how policy can have immediate effects on student search trends. As an example, he looked at real-time demand coming from various regions in India to study in the UK vs. Canada.

League tables

Lunch was hosted among the plants in the beautiful Barbican Garden Room and Conservatory, before the afternoon programme commenced with a presentation by Dr. Bernard Kingston, Founding Chairman of the Complete University Guide (CUG), about the significance of university league tables. He delved into the history of UK and global league tables, looking at various measures used such as research income from industry, academic reputation and alumni/ staff Nobel. He focused on the CUG league tables and how their aim has always been to guide would-be applicants and their mentors to make the right education decisions and to always put students first.

Bernard Kingston

Dr. Bernard Kingston, Founding Chairman of the Complete University Guide (CUG).

Student recruitment, immigration policy & student needs

The next session was a lively panel discussion with James Frith, Stephanie Harris, Joy Elliott-Bowman (Director of Policy & Development, Independent HE) and Martha Longdon (Student Experience Board Member for the Office for Students). Themes included Brexit, international student recruitment, immigration policy, fee levels, independent providers and student needs. While James Frith set out the ABCs of the HE sector (A-austerity, B-Brexit and C-challenge), Martha Longdon urged the sector to recognise that behind the data that often characterises the industry there are individual students with unique stories.

Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris, Policy Manager, Universities UK International.

Branding for institutions

The final presentation of the day was by author, speaker and former marketing leader at Red Bull and Monster Energy, Jamal Benmiloud. He spoke about how institutions should start creating more experiences that connect students to their brand. He drew on the marketing campaign used by Monster Energy, which used activities such as skateboarding to create associations and build trust with the brand. To illustrate his focus on creating experiences, he quoted Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Jamal Benmiloud

Jamal Benmiloud, Author, Speaker and former Marketing Leader at Red Bull and Monster Energy.

The day was a good mix of student perspectives and sector-leading commentary from influential speakers. Attendees were actively tweeting throughout the day. For updates and opinions from the day, follow our hashtag: #fosr19.

To see speaker slides from the day, click here.

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