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International Education Marketing Communications Management

From The Australian Higher Ed article from Phil Honeywood about marketing and communications management in international education:

Communication standards are getting lost in translation.  IN different English-speaking countries, the evolution of ­vocabulary can produce wonderful culturally laden deviations from the norm. Thus, in India we still hear such exquisite phrases as “do the needful”, “there are no issues” and “no hanky panky”.

In the global education sector transparency of communication between education agents, students, education institutions and government is crucial to doing business.

But recent trends involving clear miscommunication between these global education stakeholders must be resolved if Australia’s quality study destination reputation survives.

Unlike some of our competitor nations, Australia relies heavily on overseas-based education agents to recruit full-fee paying students. While the bulk are ethical there is a clear incentive for them to not be entirely transparent in recommending to parents the most appropriate education course or institution for their child…..

….. But if this goal is to be achieved, then all international education stakeholders need to commit to greater transparency and delivering correct information so that young people can, in fact, make ­informed decisions about their ­futures.

If Australia is willing to “do the needful” in enforcing transparency of information between education agents, students, education providers and governments then hopefully we will achieve the status of having “no issues” in our burgeoning relationship with our Indo-Pacific neighbours.

Phil Honeywood is executive director of the International Education Association of Australia.


Emperor has no clothes!  Marketing and communications has not changed in Oz international ed (similar to other sectors) since the 80s as it still focuses upon expensive short term ‘outbound’ PR, sales management (assuming markets are developed), FIFO recruitment events (nowadays more B2B), marketing ‘materials’ and KPIs outsourced to agents.  Meanwhile the digital economy and ICT have leaped ahead in bounds, with most candidates being and searching online, digital activity often outsourced to generic digital agencies….. mismatch of resources and objectives from ‘management’?

Obvious phenomenon that hath no name, and now noticed more by those outside of the sector (seeing middle managers handing out brochures in 5 star hotels in Asia etc.), whereby a travel plan approval seems to signify a successful export outcome?

Digital and SEO marketing responsibilities are unclear, and misallocation of marketing budget to central web marketing teams (lacking insight) for paid ‘outbound’ digital ad campaigns and web page management.   Meanwhile those who (should) have insight into students e.g. regional managers have no access or input into marketing strategy, and inbound analytics to inform SEO or course search strategy (in markets with low awareness).

When an international or regional managers visit nowadays they can offer no relevant market insights which begs the questions, what do they do?

Some feedback over the past 10+ years from ‘traveling’ international managers and directors:

  • If we used digital we wouldn’t need to travel (while sitting at education fair);
  • We don’t answer direct enquiries because there are too many, we prefer to deal with candidates at events;
  • I’m not interested in speaking with students on campus, only offshore;
  • If I (i.e. via agents) can get 5 applications I can get travel approval next year;
  • We don’t use email, we prefer face to face conversations;
  • ‘Great news, we got travel approval will be in touch when visiting your region (bulletin from state TAFE to all agents);
  • Digital marketing is too technical;
  • We cannot offer any feedback e.g. web traffic analysis (ex recruitment or sales targets) because it’s commercial in confidence;
  • We are tired of the food in Asia….. and we all have friends and family in Europe so we want to base ourselves in Europe on an Oz salary;
  • Digital is too technical…. or you must guarantee outcomes (yet expensive events are not evaluated for outcomes?);
  • You wouldn’t understand our marketing as it is VIP marketing we deal with the ‘top people’ and those ‘connected’ like Oz diplomats (!).

Most damning indictment of all, from an international manager at a university:

we have all these international students on campus but we don’t really know how they came to be here….‘ then what is all the international activity about?

Speaking from Europe there are several headline metrics that are ignored by marketing directors in Australia.  All prospective candidates are online, even if fluent in English they (+ family etc.) will search in their mother tongue, often not in their home country, 9/10 higher ed will try to apply direct (often to multiple universities but unknown to enquiries/admissions who invest time in assisting directs), they will all ask about visas, employment and immigration which precludes international managers from offering informed feedback at events (as Australian citizens they cannot discuss visa/immigration).

Ideally any international marketing and communications strategy will include SEO or course search digital strategy to create visibility (see ATDW eMarketing Kit), institution website and social media linked up with partners/agents (and active), feedback from students on experience (finding your institution, study and social welfare) in their mother tongue for digital marketing content to be shared, accumulated and analysed over time by regional or international managers (traffic, enqs, apps etc.).

While there is sub-optimal marketing and communication with indirect KPIs there is a tendency to compress activity into short term campaign or start finish, there is no accumulation of marketing resources, thus precluding sustainable marketing strategy.

Such changes must start at the top but limited expertise or leadership in digital from management is an issue in Australia generally.  Appears that both public and private sector management still prefer top down hierarchical vs flatter structures with horizontal and bottom up communication needed for effective marketing.

If you are a younger international manager, how can you develop skills to have a sustainable career?  Maybe it is already too late for international managers to reclaim and conduct marketing via student feedback, SEO and web analytics, in cooperation with partners, agents and students?

At minimum, anyone with an interest in effective international education marketing, especially SEO, should be doing self study, even if such skills are neither recognised nor included on job descriptions.

As a post script, the view from a university via Campus Morning Mail:


Workers uprising. “The last refuge of a Soviet-style command economy is university systems across the OECD. It makes no difference whether a university is public or private. They all spend vast amounts on the production of gratuitous functions, labyrinthine administrative processes, pointless marketing, failed competition, spurious plans, useless strategies, vacuous documents, inane branding, dysfunctional databases, needless committees, tendentious grant seeking, comic institutional ambitions, vain rhetoric, inaccurate metrics, shell game budgets and brittle self-justification. Today seventy cents in every dollar that a student or the taxpayer hands over to a university goes to the nomenclatura and its myriad of offices.” From Peter Murphy‘s (James Cook U) forthcoming, Universities and the Innovative Economy (Ashgate). This book is going to intrigue some people, amuse others and infuriate a few. The debate it deserves is going to be fun.


More information, research and insights into international education marketing click through.

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