‘Brand Scotland’ is resonating well with prospective international students, and higher education institutions across Scotland continue to be “cautiously optimistic” about the upcoming intake in autumn 2021.
Additionally, the country’s institutions have been reminded it is important to “get India right” in a year when the UK reintroduces post-study work opportunities for international graduates.
Speaking at the Scottish Universities International Group conference 2021, global head of Insights & Consultancy at the British Council, Matt Durnin, said that while India is a “tremendous opportunity”, it is important to “keep in mind what a different opportunity it is from China”.
“India is going to be a much slower burn development,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a project in India right now to try to really understand how socio economic background influences higher education study decisions.”
“A lot of universities have only engaged with certain parts of India”
Getting India right is really the near-term challenge, he continued.
“We know that we’re going to get a tremendous amount of interest from India, particularly with a renewed post study work offer… but it’s about really getting the systems and processes right, understanding the market and diversifying the kind of geographic reach within India.
“It’s a big country and a lot of universities have only engaged with certain parts of it.”
Indonesia, Nigeria and Ghana are also important markets looking ahead, he indicated.
Members of SUIG have previously emphasised the power of embedding a collective voice within its international outreach and marketing.
“Scotland as a whole has done a great job of working with agents and stakeholders to really establish a brand for itself,” Durnin said. While it may not help around near-term health and safety challenges, over the medium to longer term, it can “make a huge difference” for Scotland, he added.
“There’s a case for really raising regional awareness,” he said, adding in the past the UK had been perceived by students as London and the rest of the UK.
“[For years] we’ve been advising universities and the nations to really focus on articulating what the experience and offer is in different parts of the UK if you’re not in London.”
Scotland’s higher education system also is familiar to EU students – which could prove beneficial as students from the continent lose the same levels of support and access to free tuition as they had before Brexit, speakers suggested.
“Scotland has its distinct character within the UK,” Almut Caspary, HE & Science lead for EU at the British Council, said.
“The four year undergraduate degree is something which EU students are more familiar with. And the focus on breadth first and then specialisation later, that’s something that’s very similar to the degrees across the continent.”
Similarly, Scotland and EU countries share a notion that education is a “public good”, she continued.
“The fact that education is public good and shared by everyone for everyone, I think is a notion that would be well perceived by students and certainly is something you might think about pushing as well in your messaging,” she told delegates.
Additional messaging points should be around employability and quality, Caspary said, nodding to a recent report that found 95% of Scottish students are in employment or training within six months of graduation.
“That’s obviously a really, really positive message, which I think – especially in combination with the graduate route – is something that’s valuable to share with EU students. I would really encourage you to hone in on those positive messages when reaching out to students.”
For students from the EU, pricing has previously had a lot to do with decision, the British Council noted, and institutions should come up with solutions to make it a viable opportunity for those students.
“There will be nervousness in the room… but at this point, I’m feeling hopeful,” dean for International Stakeholder Engagement at the University of Aberdeen Adelyn Wilson said.
“All the feedback we get is that students are really desperate to come”
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” added Brad MacKay, vice-principal International, University of St Andrews.
“All the feedback we get is that students are really desperate to come. The question is going to be whether they can come. But I’d like to think that I will hopefully wind up with a pretty good result in September.”
“There’s always going to be an element of nervousness to think that UKVI concessions [are] coming to an end – that is going to be interesting for the sector,” Stephanie Pitticas, director Marketing, Recruitment & Admissions at Glasgow Caledonian University said. “But, yes… I’m cautiously optimistic.”