On a regular basis we hear doom and gloom news about the credit crunch. However, in this month’s international column Professor Helen Higson takes a look at Aston’s international recruitment at this time and explains why there has never been a better time to study in the UK.
Aston has some ambitious plans for the recruitment of international students over the next few years and in this current economic climate the University is not being complacent.
As a university, we constantly monitor international student numbers, compare figures year on year and study our conversion rates. Conventional wisdom is that full time university enrolments go up when the economy is in a period of decline. Indeed, what we are seeing so far is that applications to Aston have increased. In the 2008/09 period our international student numbers stand at 1,944 which is 241 more students than the previous year ahead of target.
Maintaining satisfactory international student numbers is a high priority at Aston and is an important part of the Aston 2012 strategy. As a result we have number of initiatives in place to ensure that we remain strong in this area.
Staff in the University’s International Office have a hectic schedule of activities throughout the year in over thirty target EU and non-EU countries. Through their work, they have built up good contacts with key local offices and organisations including various ministries, sponsorship bodies, British Council offices, British Embassies and High Commissions, local institutions and other local organisations including a small network of carefully vetted educational agents (representatives) to ensure there is a constant flow of information and knowledge. This means that as a University, we are able to react swiftly to any market intelligence to keep ourselves ahead of the game.
Another way in which we successfully gauge how the University is perceived is through the International Student Barometer. 800 students took part in this national survey which tracks opinion across the international student experience. It enables Aston to benchmark against other universities and it means that as a university we are able to establish what international students really think of us. This year’s statistics show that 70% of Aston’s international students choose us because of our reputation and the remaining 30% because we are a UK university.
One of the biggest attractions identified in the International Student Barometer is employability and we are keen to capitalise on this. The barometer also shows that Aston University is the university of choice for good careers support. The University will shortly be appointing an International Careers Officer specifically to support international students in order to further our reputation in this field.
What we are also discovering is that other economies are not suffering as much as the UK. For example the India Digest says that India (one of our major target markets) is less affected by the financial crisis than Western countries. UBS, one of the world’s leading financial firms, agrees and it feels that the Indian economy is less affected that most other financial markets. UBS also sees the Chinese economy as the strongest financial market - this is reassuring as China is Aston’s primary source of students.
Aston’s growth strategy for the recruitment of international students is challenging but it is also realistic. In light of the measures we have in place and our ability to adapt should we need to, the University can certainly remain upbeat in the current economic climate. Anecdotally, on his trips abroad, International Officer Andrew Plant has been asking students whether they are still planning to study in the UK given the current economic climate. He always receives the same answer. The families of our potential international students have been saving for this opportunity for many years and so they will be coming to the UK to study regardless. In many respects now is the ideal time to study in the UK as the pound is weak. This is great news for our prospective students as it means studying in the UK is currently cheaper than it has been for years!