Predicting student mobility

By Katryna Snow, Associate Director of Higher Education Services, Council of International Schools

Students today have more options than ever when it comes to study outside their home country. They can take many factors into consideration when deciding where to study—language of the host country, tuition costs, distance from family, availability of degree programmes, and more. But how can universities best predict which students might be interested in them? 

University recruitment and admissions offices have finite resources—both budgets and staff—to use when trying to connect with the right students. Consequently, universities rely heavily on data to make decisions on where and how to recruit prospective students. Much of the data is retrospective in nature—institutional-specific data on historic applicant and enrollment numbers, as well as national level data such as IIE’s Open Doors. As valuable as retrospective data can be, however, it is not necessarily an indicator of future student mobility trends.

To assist universities with strategic travel planning and their student recruitment goals, CIS set out to develop a tool that was predictive in nature, relying on demographic indicators. Given the global nature of our members, we wanted to build a tool that would provide valuable information regardless of where the university was located. We decided the best tool would be a student mobility map which would show countries with strong potential for future international student mobility.

As a first step in designing the map, we reached out to over 20 seasoned international admissions representatives to ask what data indicators they rely on when establishing recruitment travel agendas for the coming years. We then interviewed several economists who helped us understand what inferences can be drawn from these demographic indicators.

We collaborated with one of these economists to dig into the literature more deeply to narrow which data indicators would best predict future student mobility. Interestingly, some of the indicators such as 'the rise of the middle class,' which many admissions representatives cited as an indicator of potential growth, is in fact not correlated with increased mobility. Research indicates that an increase in trade between two countries over a two-year period is strongly correlated with increased student mobility. For this reason, we determined that an increase in trade between two countries would be the primary filter for the new map. Secondly, we know that for many CIS universities, a student’s ability to pay is an important factor, thus after populating a list of the top countries by increase in trade, the map then re-sorts the list by relative ability to pay.

We hope this map will become a valuable tool for our university members to consult as they are planning outreach and travel. Each university will still need to take into consideration their own institutional culture and goals, and assess how the countries on the map may or may not be a fit for their specific student recruitment needs.

Douglas Christiansen, Ph.D., Vice Provost for University Enrollment Affairs, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Vanderbilt University recently helped us present this new tool at our Global Forum on International Admission & Guidance last November. He shared with other CIS members his plans to use the map at his institution: ‘Vanderbilt will plan to add one or two countries into our existing travel schedule based on the information learned from the mobility map—in other words we will use the data as a rounding out process as we plan our recruitment schedule.’ Alongside other resources, like CIS counsellor contacts and on-the-ground advice from organizations like EducationUSA, the map is a great addition to the recruiter’s toolkit. Christiansen pointed out, ‘As the CIS mobility map matures over time, we will be using it to augment our current international recruitment planning process. Once we focus on one to two additional countries we will commit to those countries for several years so we can track the effectiveness of the CIS mobility map.’

The Student Mobility Map is available for all university members through the CIS Community portal. The map is a great starting place for planning your international recruitment travel. You might find a new perspective on up-and-coming markets for student mobility. We will continue to refine the map based on member feedback, so please let us know what you think!