Student recruitment

The future of the hybrid recruitment model

We look into what the future holds for university recruiting

Leslie Birch
January 5, 2022
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Universities and higher education institutions across the world have adapted to the challenges posed by the pandemic with the help of digital technology. As universities continue to engage digitally with students and learn from their experience with online student recruitment, it is time to ask whether there will ever be a return to the pre-pandemic mode of recruitment.

The rise of online student recruitment

The pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of the typical university recruiting experience for both institutions and students alike around the world. As we enter year three of the pandemic, the rapid emergence and global spread of the new Omicron variant has shown us that we may be dealing with COVID disruptions well into 2022. Recruiting professionals continue to shift plans for annual visits to international schools while searching for alternative student engagement strategies. While their desire to study abroad remains high despite the lingering pandemic, prospective students continue to grapple with an array of COVID-related and other concerns about international education.

These concerns were discussed in detail in Cialfo’s report Understanding student recruitment – impact of the pandemic and beyond that summarized survey results from more than 3,785 high school students. The good news is that despite lockdowns, travel restrictions, health worries, and visa backlogs, universities have been able to continue the crucial work of engaging international students, showcasing their institutions, and addressing students' (and their families’) most pressing worries using interactive digital tools like Cialfo. A recent Institute of International Education (IIE) study shows that 73% of institutions continue to prioritize outreach to international students using online recruitment experiences.

These online student engagement strategies have also been a win-win for many students according to Joseph Marshall, Head of Higher Education at The Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, who shared his thoughts in our report, saying:

“What is important for students is the quality of the interaction students receive, not whether it is face-to-face or digital. But in terms of quality, currently it is the digital interactions which are delivering; student participation is up and we have access to university representatives that we previously would not have been able to reach. Far from suffering from a lack of face-to-face interaction, evidence suggests that provision has in fact greatly improved.”

The way ahead

So once the world returns to some sense of post-pandemic normalcy, though it is difficult to say when that might be, will university recruiting teams discard online platforms and go back to solely using face-to-face events to achieve their student recruitment goals? For the thousands of global institutions that experienced the benefits of digital recruiting first-hand during COVID-19, that answer is most likely a resounding “NO.” 

Going forward, “hybrid” student engagement and recruitment is here to stay - offering prospective students the best of both worlds by incorporating a mix of highly targeted in-person and customized virtual events. As Cialfo’s CEO and Co-founder, Rohan Pasari noted, “The systemic shifts in the past year have resulted in a unique opportunity for universities to engage students in new ways, which is exciting for all involved - there’s nothing like being on campus, but the future of education will be one which harnesses the best of both online and offline solutions.”

The University of Toronto, one of the world’s top research universities, has already incorporated a hybrid approach into their recruiting strategy. Natasha Bijelich, Assistant Director of International Student Recruitment, had this to say about their post-pandemic vision:

“While there is no denying the challenges of the past year, our shared experience leaves us no doubt that the next generation of prospects will expect us to have learned from this pivot, to live up to our reputation as Canada’s most innovative university, and not to abandon the extraordinary potential and versatility of virtual student engagement. At the same time, there is value in the hard work of building relationships with prospective students, applicants, parents, and high school counselors face-to-face and we look forward to advancing a hybrid recruitment strategy that allows us to both continue the work we’ve been doing and pick up where we left off.”


The benefits of hybrid recruitment

Fusing online tools with in-person interaction creates multiple opportunities for connection between universities and prospective students - resulting in more personalized and authentic engagement. Universities can use online platforms to creatively share content about their programs, alumni, campus, and student life before a face-to-face event and maximize limited in-person time to get to know a student or answer specific questions.

Data gleaned from digital tools can also help recruiting teams better allocate their travel budgets and resources when planning future in-person events. We are more likely to see centralized virtual teams engaging directly with students and counselors, while sending smaller numbers of face-to-face representatives to regional markets identified beforehand using digital tools.

In conclusion

The benefits of adopting a hybrid international recruitment strategy are countless - especially when many institutions worldwide are still dealing with ever-changing COVID protocols, shrinking budgets, and travel cutbacks. 

Universities that are leveraging the innovative capabilities of digital platforms to optimize their face-to-face engagement, broaden their reach, and bridge the gaps between students and their physical campus are shaping the future of higher education. Learn more about how leading institutions are leading the way in our report.

Images credits:

Karolina Grabowska and Geralt

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