A major jump in students flagging up safety concerns as influencing their study abroad decisions has been noted in a new report by Intead and FPP EDU Media.
In two separate surveys conducted in spring 2016 and in spring 2017, prospective international international students were asked to report how important safety was when deciding to study in the US.
While the questions were worded differently, in 2016, 23% of students indicated that their sense of personal safety in the destination country was a strong factor in their decision making.
In 2017, 88% of students said that a strong campus safety program was helpful or very helpful to their decision making.
About 40,000 students participated in the first survey, 50,000 in the second.
According to Intead CEO Ben Waxman, this is still a significant result even though the questions were worded differently.
“The significant difference in the figures suggests a dramatic rise in the importance of this message to international students considering studying on any given campus,” he told The PIE News. “By and large, in 2016 personal safety was not a big thing, but it was in 2017.”
The surveys, conducted on FPP EDU Media’s extensive database of prospective international students, showed that students are also increasingly looking out for the availability of an international student service office on campus.
“We don’t have data to explain why this happened, but both factors have risen in importance,” Waxman said.
“This could point to students’ discomfort with the current political rhetoric, unwelcoming policies, and some of the violence happening in the US. Students want to know that they are going to be safe, comfortable and welcome, that there are people that understand and share an international mindset.”
Universities in the US have been suffering a drop in international student enrolment, according to Open Doors report. Observers have attributed this to a perception of the US as unwelcoming towards international students.
Universities need to create content and messaging that emphasises how safe and welcoming their campus and community are, Waxman said.
They should join the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign, for example – and to make the narrative more powerful, they should leverage their best asset: their international staff and students. Institution should highlight the fact that they have international faculty and students, and provide testimonials of international alumni, he explained.
“This gives international students confidence,” he explained. “We want international students to think: ‘there are people like me studying there and they are doing just fine – all that stuff coming out of Washington DC is just politicians being politicians, I don’t need to worry about that.’”
Initially released at NAFSA 2017, the final results of the Know Your Neighbourhood report were published in late 2017 and offer a breakdown of data over 29 countries.
This not only reveals regional differences in students’ motivations and concerns, but also gives some guidance for universities aiming to target their student recruitment efforts.
One of the points made by the report concerns the use of agents.
“For some countries,” Waxman explained, “meeting with a recruitment professional from the university or with an agent are really parallel in term of student receptivity. This shows that US bias against agents is misguided.”
But for students in some source countries, meetings in person may not be necessary. Respondents in Guatemala, Venezuela and Spain, for example, said they would be just as happy interacting with a recruitment officer or agent online. This is good to know, Waxman said, when you are planning your recruitment travel budget.
“If there are countries where students are happy to meet online, that is huge. You don’t have to travel there and you’ll still have really good results,” he said.
As the final words of wisdom, Waxman said universities should diversify their student enrolment to ensure they are not over-reliant on some source markets.
Targeting countries will less competition could be very rewarding, he said – but there is some resistance to that in the industry.
“When we talk to new clients, they all talk about how much they want countries with less competition, but when we get to the marketing strategy those countries fall off the list and everyone wants to go to China,” he explained.
“From our own research and discussions, there are opportunities in many countries. Just a few examples: South Africa, Japan, Taiwan – they are investing in trying to draw students to them, but their economies are doing well enough that there are enough resources for studying abroad.”