UnibuddyHow student ambassadors can help their universities modernise recruitment strategies

How student ambassadors can help their universities modernise recruitment strategies

As universities adapt their recruitment plans for the digital age, current students and online tools can be key for spreading positive messages to potential recruits

Universities should leverage social media, student ambassadors and alumni success stories to modernise their student recruitment strategies for the digital age.

At a webinar hosted by Times Higher Education (THE), in partnership with Unibuddy, a panel of higher education leaders discussed how student recruitment should be updated and strategies for maximising engagement and support.

Chair Alistair Lawrence, special projects editor at THE, said that as universities navigate an ongoing digital transformation, many institutions are adjusting strategies and processes to attract a more diverse student body.

Azalia Abd Rahman, head of the international admissions office at Universiti Teknologi Petronas in Malaysia, said engaging with existing students was a strong driver of recruitment. “Over 60 per cent of our students are from word of mouth, the good things people tell them about the institution,” she said. “These are generated from our students having their own unique stories about the institution, how they feel about the study, their lifestyle in the university…It’s very important for us to empower the students to speak their minds.” 

Erry Adesta, professor and head of department at International Islamic University Malaysia, agreed that student-led engagement is important to “foster a sense of belonging” in potential recruits. Since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, he said the university had set up digital experiences including virtual campus tours and marketing videos tailored to specific study areas.

A strong digital presence has become crucial for universities, with 84 per cent of students using social media when researching where to study, said Sean O’Dea, university partnerships manager at Unibuddy. He said research shows that 75 per cent of prospective students would prefer to speak to a current student rather than a member of staff.

Wing Lam, provost at the University of Reading Malaysia, said social media was a valuable tool for universities to connect with prospective students, particularly international students, but warned they would see through an insincere approach.

“A student just blogging about their experience at a particular institution, that in itself can be worth its weight in gold,” he said. “If it’s over-engineered, if it’s designed by the institution and it seems like a marketing initiative, I think it will lose some of its authenticity and appeal.”

Bee Chuan Sia, dean at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman in Malaysia, said there were times when digital and traditional strategies should be combined: “I think some students, and their parents, still need face-to-face interaction.”

With the convergence of executive education and degree programmes, Sean O Ferguson, associate dean at Asia School of Business, said institutions would need to attract different learner types through their marketing strategies. 

Younger learners want assurances of employability and to see how the course connects to the real world, said Angus Young, senior lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University. He urged universities to tailor their messaging to effectively reach the “digital generation”. 

“The format for the online virtual day for most universities has to change. You’ve got employers talking, you’ve got teachers giving presentations, which you can imagine for Generation Z is quite boring,” he said. 

“They just want bullet points. They want to see how they are going to enjoy the study and how they are going to learn, because learning for them is different.”

Watch the webinar on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

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