Navigating regulatory changes in higher education: Insights from Edified’s Elyse Pipitone

Institutions are mitigating these risks by participating in lobbying groups/having their voices heard while the Canadian government is developing new strategic plans, as well as by diversifying their recruitment efforts to new markets and offering flexible program delivery offerings.

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In today’s ever-evolving educational landscape, universities are facing a pivotal challenge – their reliance on international student enrollments. While global trends and changes continuously shape the dynamics of higher education, universities must exercise caution and adapt to these shifts. Beyond the unpredictable waves of economic conditions, universities must exercise nations to attract international students.

Canada, for instance, is keenly aware of the need to enhance its appeal to prospective students on the global stage. Countries like Australia are setting examples with comprehensive approaches to international higher education. In this interview, we will delve into the specific trends and strategies universities must consider in light of their dependence on international students.

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities inherent in relying heavily on international students for revenue. Universities worldwide witnessed immediate shortfalls due to deferrals and travel restrictions, highlighting the urgency for innovative solutions. This crisis has driven institutions to reevaluate their support systems, from mental health services to technology access, to cater to the unique needs of international students.

Furthermore, it illuminated the importance of diversifying funding sources and strengthening partnerships to build resilience against future shocks. As we explore these lessons, universities can gain valuable insights into securing their financial stability while maintaining their commitment to international education.

Amidst the evolving landscape, universities also face regulatory changes and geopolitical events that can pose substantial threats. Alterations in student visa policies or geopolitical tensions have the potential to disrupt the flow of international students. To mitigate these risks, institutions are taking proactive steps, including active participation in lobbying efforts, diversifying their recruitment strategies, and offering flexible program delivery options.

In this interview by MSM Reporter with Elyse Pipitone of Edified, we will delve into the specific challenges posed by regulatory changes and geopolitical events and the strategies employed by universities to mitigate these risks.

Could you provide a detailed explanation of the particular global trends and changes that universities should exercise caution with when depending on international student enrollments?

Beyond unpredictable global shifts (like economic or geo-political changes), one of the things on the minds of our clients right now in Canada is our competitiveness on the global stage. Canada will have to have more to offer prospective students to maintain and grow their international student interest, and the future of our workforce depends on newcomers. Other countries like Australia are upping their game.

One great example of this in Australia is recent – recommendations coming from an inquiry into Australia’s Tourism and International Education Sectors. Here is a good example of a country poised to do it better by coordinating an approach to international higher education sector-wide, at all levels of government, with the corporations of service providers to make a great experience and focused on targeting bad actors in the sector from different angles.

Considering potential risks, which strategies are universities currently employing to broaden their sources of revenue beyond international students?

Edified is currently working with several institutions around the world to diversify their source markets and revenue streams. We’re doing it through differentiation, targeted pricing and scholarship strategies, smoothing the student journey, innovative country and course-specific strategies, and looking at agent perceptions.

Many institutions are focused on broadening their efforts to different regions for recruitment, especially those with a growing middle class, spending power, and a young population, exploring offshore delivery of programs or campus locations, as well as short-term revenue-generating partnerships or summer programs to diversify revenue sources beyond international student tuition dollars alone.

To what extent has the current pandemic underscored vulnerabilities in the reliance on international students, and what valuable insights can universities glean from this situation?

COVID highlighted for some institutions the sheer dependence on international student tuition fees with immediate shortfalls due to deferrals or travel restrictions. This put more pressure on institutions to come up with flexible and innovative housing, mental health, and technology/access supports for this particular demographic. It also made enrollment forecasting much more opaque. Canada’s fluctuating permit policies also caused some reputational impact.

The post-pandemic landscape has a renewed emphasis on diversifying funding sources, enhancing those support systems, and strengthening partnerships to buffer against future shocks. Many institutions have looked inward to the way that their internal systems and processes can be modernized as well (to meet the expectations of this new generation of prospective students, but also to provide more meaningful data).

Which regulatory changes or geopolitical events present the most substantial threats to universities with a strong emphasis on recruiting international students, and what strategies are these institutions employing to reduce these risks?

While it’s hard to predict which events would trigger a domino effect for institutions, there are certainly a few that would cause real panic within the sector. Broadly, if student visa policies change drastically or political tensions or decisions to withdraw students arise – these always pose risks to institutions relying heavily on international students.

Institutions are mitigating these risks by participating in lobbying groups/having their voices heard while the Canadian government is developing new strategic plans, as well as by diversifying their recruitment efforts to new markets and offering flexible program delivery offerings.

Could you provide recent instances or case studies of universities that encountered substantial difficulties as a result of their dependence on international student tuition? Additionally, what lessons can be drawn from these scenarios to take proactive measures against risk factors?

Institutions that have traditionally heavily relied on international student tuition or who have seen a major uptick in the last 5-10 years have been facing challenges. By relying on one or two source countries or too heavily on international tuition, institutions are opening themselves up to massive financial risk down the line.

In some cases, they are also putting immense strain on their local communities and a poor experience overall for students. For some smaller institutions, the risk exposure, when handled poorly, can mean the end of business altogether.

Community engagement and support services that go beyond the institution’s walls (like what we have seen with the Brampton Charter and similar initiatives) and diversifying revenue streams, as well as recruitment targets for students, are ways to address this risk proactively.

At Edified, we’ve supported institutions to a better inquiry to enrollment experience, created clearer pre-arrival communication to students around the true cost of living, and have seen a shift to messaging around requiring that accommodation be secured before arrival and ensuring emphasis on being very selective about students who are admitted based on various success factors.

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