SOURCE: IDP Education Pty. LTD.

October 29, 2009 15:41 ET

New University Challenge: Open Up and Compete Globally, Says IDP Education

International Education Leaders Call on U.S. Universities to Focus on International Students, Offer Five Recommendations to Increase Foreign Enrollment

CHESTER, PA--(Marketwire - October 29, 2009) - Traditional U.S. universities face unprecedented competition, as the number of traditional aged college students drops, for-profit and online universities increasingly draw adult students, and a worldwide surge in higher education investment entices former U.S.-bound students to destinations as far reaching as Dubai, Malaysia and Slovenia. International education, once dominated by Australia, America and the UK, now has to compete worldwide in a marketplace that Mark Shay and Harmeet Pental, leading authorities on international recruitment, compare to the struggling automobile market.

To combat this, Shay and Pental call on higher education leaders in the United States to increase their international outreach, and offer five recommendations for U.S. institutions to attract more foreign students.

"The United States remains the destination of choice for many foreign students, thanks to its strong higher education brand," says Shay, North American director of IDP Education, the world's largest international student placement firm. "But that brand is under intense competition worldwide, as other nations invest heavily in their post-secondary education sectors and bring to market innovative programs often at a lower price and with more consumer-oriented features than that of the United States. If left unchecked, we may see another iconic American industry succumb to foreign competition."

Shay suggests that now is the time to ramp up investment in international student facilities, a sentiment confirmed by the high number of university strategic plans on internationalizing campuses, which Shay puts at more than 600.

While many of these strategic plans are conceptual, there are a few high impact commitments that a university can make immediately that won't cost too much money. For institutions that want to increase their number of foreign enrollments, Shay and Pental, IDP's regional director of South Asia, recommend the following:

1. Guarantee student housing. The number one concern from parents back home is accommodation, and since they often do not get a chance to tour campuses before applying, it's critical for universities to guarantee good housing, on or off-campus. Extending deposit deadlines is also important for these students.

2. Guarantee a place of worship. Most schools offer access to rooms for prayer and worship, but there are times the campus may be closed (holidays, weather, etc.). To devoutly religious students, such a variable in accessibility is cause for concern. They want to be assured of access to prayer rooms at all times, either on campus or off.

3. Be candid about the diversity of your campus. We often refer to foreign students generally as "international," but they don't all come from the same general international location. Even students from the same region can have very different backgrounds with different customs and beliefs -- Pental sites the vast cultural, religious, linguistic, and dietary habit between students from North India and South India as an example. These students want to know specific details about the full diversity of a campus, and they may be uncomfortable being placed together with other "foreigners."

4. Insist on student activities. Foreign students can be easily intimidated by the free social scene on American campuses, and are often reluctant to accept social invitations. Administrators should push hard to involve foreign students in social activities, while being respectful of how our version of socializing may intimidate others, such as Muslim students and the serving of alcohol.

5. Provide cost of living expectations and on-campus job opportunities. Finances are a main contributor to foreign student attrition, just as with domestic students. They often pay full tuitions and fees, but to support that, the students and their families and sponsors will need to know as much about expected costs as possible, including cost of living for the area. Additionally, J-1 and F-1 visas allow students to work up to 20 hours a week, but only on campus except for a few rare exceptions, so to respect their restrictions, consider leaving some student jobs open for your international enrollments.

Additionally, while foreign students typically have high retention rates once enrolled, an important factor that can affect retention is homesickness. According to Pental, experts debate whether ethnic style foods and excursions to nearby ethnic communities give foreign students a refreshing taste of home or actually spur homesickness. Therefore, to combat this potential problem, Pental recommends strong advising and counseling to maintain a pulse on the attitudes of each foreign student. Those entrusted with international student services should listen to students when it comes to homesickness: they are far from home and it may be best not to dwell on the styles and traditions of the old country.

"Many institutions are increasingly eager to bring the bright minds and ambitions of foreign students onto their campuses," says Pental. "These students provide a fresh perspective and add new dimensions to an institution's diversity."

He adds, "Celebrating this cultural addition to a campus adds vibrancy to the educational experience of all students and is a key component in improving the college experience. University leaders across the United States see internationalization as a key pillar in the progress of their institutions. But I've seen first hand that if a school isn't well known overseas, it can be difficult to enroll these students."

To achieve successful internationalization, Shay and Pental remind us that we need to invest in student services as well as open mindedness. They believe that if institutions follow these five recommendations, and work proactively to alleviate homesickness, they will have a strong chance of globalizing their campuses and hitting their enrollment numbers.

IDP Education is committed to the global success of international education, as evidenced by its support of the Australian International Education Conference that just took place in Sydney, Australia. Issues currently affecting international students in the United States are similar to the ones faced by IDP's colleagues in Australia, where the company has been operating for 40 years. Shay notes that his expertise is drawn in part from this success overseas.

About IDP Education:

IDP Education is the world's largest student placement firm, with more than 70 company-owned counseling centers in 24 countries, staffed by professional counselors. The recent U.S. venture is an addition to the already successful Australian student placement service, involving all new counselors and support teams. For more information, visit www.usa.idp.com.

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