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Improving the on-boarding experience to increase conversion and retention of your student base

In 2016-17, international education was Australia’s third-largest export, leaping from A$23.6 billion to a record high of A$28 billion. With full fee-paying international students providing a rich stream of revenue for colleges, it’s no wonder they are coveted and enticed to study in this country.

But how well do we truly understand these students? What efforts do we go to ensure they have a positive and rewarding educational experience? And furthermore, what are the risks of not understanding these motivations?

The implications of not understanding key pivot points in a student's decision-making process are staggering:

  • Within the higher education sector, the highest intake of international students is of Chinese origin.
  • Australian Universities have 200-300% more reliance on Chinese students than any other country.
  • At this level of exposure, even the slightest decline in Chinese students could result in serious financial hardship for these Universities.
  • Sydney University, for example, extracts 20% of its revenue from Chinese students alone.

Recently, we undertook a series of qualitative research activities to better understand the motivators and detractors for international students for our partner, Navitas. The research looked to understand the full student journey, from research to selection of a college, the application process, enrollment, orientation, and life at university. We sought to understand where some of the key opportunities might exist to improve customer experience across various channels and, as a result, boost attraction, conversion, and retention rates.

Here’s what we discovered:

1 - There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Experience

People walking to class

We tend to group all international students into a single bucket when devising strategies to attract and retain them. But this kind of homogenous thinking has proved unsuccessful in the past.

International students come in many shapes and sizes, and understanding the key motivators and individual drivers is crucial to engineering a positive student experience across the board.

2 - International Students Seek to Prove Themselves

Anecdotal research has shown that many Chinese parents believe that international study is the pathway to lucrative international careers for their children. Not only will their children’s education at an Australian university be perceived as cultural capital for the family, but they also want their children to gain post-study migration and employment opportunities.

Many middle-class Chinese parents want their children to have a broader world view and to be fluent in English as well as Chinese but still have a competitive edge of local Chinese students (without the stress of performing well academically).

However, reports note that many Asian students gravitate to others of the same cultural background to their own detriment. Some even admit that their English language skills deteriorated whilst at university in Australia. They’re simply not taking advantage of the variety of opportunities at their disposal, and one key reason is that they may not know how to.

3 - Anxiety Is a Major Threat to International Education

One specific area we researched was the anxiety students feel when presented with an offer to study at a college abroad. These anxieties can stem from something as rudimentary as not understanding public transport right through to a fear that they will be isolated in a foreign country.

Interviews with on-campus staff revealed that many international students suffer such anxieties in silence, and it’s not until they have been attending University for several weeks (coincidentally aligning with the critical Census period) that these fears boil over, and the students present themselves to Student Services almost at a point of no return.

Supporting and encouraging students to participate in university life outside of their comfort zone is also key to their development and success.

How Orientation Go Is Changing the Course for International Students

Person using orientation Go app

The above insights led to the development of a platform designed to better orientate new students to their specific college and location before these apprehensions become a major issue. Students are encouraged to download a mobile application called Orientation Go before enrollment and arrival. The app seeks to relieve their apprehensions of studying abroad.

The platform aims to better prepare the student across three key areas—building connections with others, understanding their location and campus, and undertaking key administrative tasks to better prepare them for their arrival.

The content is structured in often video-based bite-size pieces that connect international students with similar current students and slowly build their confidence and preparedness to begin their life abroad. Interactions are also gamified to encourage repeat usage and forge a better connection with the student.

First and foremost, Orientation Go is a commitment to ensuring that students arrive more prepared and assured in their place at an Australian college. It is our hope that it goes a long way in improving the users’ immediate impression of student life in Australia and indirectly contributes to their future retention, graduation, and success.

The app is just one in a series of projects aimed at improving the overall student experience at Navitas colleges using digital channels, and it’s one we think will serve to ensure our students have a positive and rewarding experience in this country.


Chris Crammond

Managing Partner

P: 02 8917 7900

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