As Coronavirus spreads throughout the world and changes our everyday way of life, so does the face of international higher education. With the situation escalating daily, it is difficult to anticipate the extent of the impact the virus will have on higher education in the near future.
In January, the reality of the virus first became apparent for international educators after the delay of returning students from December vacation due to the initial spread of the virus in South-East Asia, followed by a recall of international students home, and widespread cancellation of global events and conferences such as APAIE 2020 in Vancouver. As the epicentre of the threat began to cross over to Europe in February, universities and schools switched to remote work and online learning across the world, and schools are now delaying exams, graduation ceremonies and cancelling study abroad programs.
With so many unknown variables, preparedness right now is key. Developing the right strategy and action plan may be vital to help universities mitigate the impact of the virus now, and well into the future.
We have put together some initial solutions designed to not only help recruiters and higher ed professionals work to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus today, but form a dedicated action plan that will aid future recruitment long after the crisis has abated.
1. Tweak your communications strategy to create community and reduce fears
Many potential students now may be holding off from continuing their enquiries and considering options closer to home. It is vital to keep lines of communication open with students at all stages of the recruitment pipeline. Now is the time to create a sense of community and belonging with extra efforts made to communicate actively with students to help ease their fears and reduce anxiety about the future. If you have special arrangements available or solutions designed to help students, especially internationals, it is also important to promote these actively and get word out.
2. Enhance your online presence
As physical events are now being cancelled globally and social distancing becomes the norm, it has never been more important to advertise online.
Activities today will not only help to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on your recruitment but also contribute to future years. Some quick wins can include:
-Switch current marketing activities to digital, or shift your budget to increase online promotion
-Give a promotional boost to programs that are new or heavily reliant on international students
-Become more active on social media & communicate updates
- If you offer online degrees or flexible modes of learning, switch your communications to focus and promote these areas
By improving your digital presence, you will not only be working to mitigate the potential impact of coronavirus into the near future and long-term, but also be better primed to deliver marketing communications for key recruitment demographics who are digital natives, such as Generation Z, or the upcoming Generation Alpha.
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3. Introduce greater flexibility
For companies dealing with the various impacts of the coronavirus, organisational agility has never been more vital. Universities who are able to quickly adapt and make the necessary changes stand to benefit the most in the long-term, as well as for your students and the community at large.
If you are currently sending out offers or closing applications, consider extending deadlines, offering ability for longer deferment or delay.
The impact of coronavirus is unprecedented and the aftermath may take a significant amount of time to settle. By giving your potential students additional time to process, and deal with the impact of this pandemic, you will both ensure loyalty and potentially decrease losses
4. Move your events online
As many student fairs are now being cancelled or postponed, a significant portion of physical recruiting has been lost. If you are hosting an event that has been cancelled or is in danger of being postponed, consider switching it online.
Harvard has recently introduced "Virtual Visitas," as a replacement for its annual event uniting recently admitted students. A series of online events and videos,"Video Visitas" gives new students an opportunity to get excited about the upcoming year and develop a sense of community without stepping foot on campus.
For other schools, simpler incorporation of online events could include campus tours, hosting of webinars and information sessions online. For schools without the infrastructure, software tools such as Zoom and GotoMeeting can help to bridge the gap with potential to offer webinars and video conferencing between groups. While many schools already offered these types of online events, many still do not and adopting can significantly help increase student interactivity and engagement!
5. Boost your video content
Alongside online events, videos can be a very useful tool to help communicate online. Campus tours can be shot as videos and serve as excellent marketing materials. Student diaries and other community-related videos can give potential students a glimpse of what your institution has to offer. Simple videos can have a much greater impact than words alone, especially as younger generations demonstrate a preference for video over other forms of content. In 2020, video content is quickly surpassing other types of marketing and communication in popularity, so now is the time to get started if you haven't already.
6. Train your staff and be ready to provide support
A lot of changes or transitions being made right now involve a switch to technology. While it may seem easy for some, the use of new software such as video conference or eLearning solutions may take time for others to successfully navigate and deliver.
When implementing new technology or requiring use from employees, it is important to ensure training and assistance is provided, especially to those who may experience difficulty quickly adopting these technologies. If time is of the essence, even consider sharing of guides, video tutorials (frequently provided by software companies) and other resources, such as the article "Eight Tips for Teaching Online" from Harvard Business Review, to help reduce the learning curve for educators who may not have hosted online lessons before, or are out of practice. Simple efforts such as these can help create a smooth transition!
Overall, there are many strategies that can help to restore a sense of security for your potential students and help reduce the impact of the coronavirus on your recruitment in the future. The future is definitely not lost, but it will be different than it is today and the universities ready to quickly implement necessary changes to mitigate the impact of coronavirus will be the most prepared for what the future brings.