Global Recruitment: Looking Beyond ‘Gain or Drain’


Every year, popular destination countries welcome a new cohort of international students coming ashore to study. And with the new year starting, the recruitment cycle begins again — with university admission officers frequently tasked to visit the same high schools to recruit students.

Competition is an undeniable factor in our chosen profession. But this cycle, I want to bring attention to another facet that ties our work together: the joy of guiding students in their journey to higher education and global exploration.

Yes, we compete for applicants; but isn’t it more about providing a wide platform that enables students to make the most suitable choices for their academic and personal growth?

Here are some ways I believe secondary schools and admission professionals can work together to ensure student interests remain the top consideration in global recruitment.

For Secondary Schools:

Welcome representatives from a diverse array of universities. School-run university fairs work the best. They provide institutions equal access to students and give students equal exposure to institutions. Every destination institution offers a unique experience for students. Fairs provide them with an opportunity to explore a wide range of postsecondary options.

Accommodate visit requests, whenever possible. Due to staffing, budget, availability, and logistics, not all universities are able to join fairs; and some universities prefer to visit separately as a strategic approach. Some schools exercise “find a fit” and “value every admission equally” and try to accommodate each visit request. Other schools reject visit requests based on a university’s location, ranking, and/or perceived popularity. But limiting access limits choice.

Take the long view. Some school administrators are keen to display students’ matriculation by listing top 100 universities only. But in reality, students are far more mobile than ever. Where they chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree after high school does not define them. Their journey starts with country No. 1 for their undergraduate study; it may well expand with an exchange/study abroad experience in country No. 2; it then perhaps continues with postgraduate study in country No. 3. Eventually they land and stay somewhere; they explore, establish, and enjoy their chosen professional career. Ultimately, there is always an institution for every student; and they go far beyond that. Wherever they choose to study, as long as it fits, they should be congratulated.

For Admission Officers:

Share best practices amid a growing recruitment pool. There were only 2,584 international schools globally in 2000, according to data from ISC Research. By 2019, that number had grown to 10,937, with a pipeline of 5.65 million students — and that figure does not include the local schools global recruiters also visit.

At our institutions, we’ve built capacity to meet the demand. We’ve also put in place resources to ensure students have the most positive experiences possible. The next step is to share ideas and compare practices, allowing us to emulate and learn from the best.

Encourage best fit. Each year, hundreds of thousands of students seek degrees outside their home country. The US, Canada, the UK, and Australia are all popular destinations. Other major, popular, and growing destinations include Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, and New Zealand. The landscape keeps evolving. With so many options, students are well-positioned to choose an institution that suits them the best. For every student we meet in the months ahead, may we be glad to have been a part of their journey — no matter where it takes them.

Adjust the gain vs. drain mindset. I vividly recall one visit to a school in Shanghai. The school counselor, when walking me to the seminar room, said: “McGill was just here this morning. You will get what you get.” The remark surprised me. What was he trying to say? What was he inferring? I went there to give interested students information so that they could make their own informed decisions. Whether speaking to an audience of 300 students or three students, my seminar content would be the same.

As it turned out, there were around 50 students in the seminar room. I talked about Australia and all the things students wanted to know about Sydney. I also mentioned that McGill and Sydney are student exchange partners. Every year, we welcome students from McGill coming to Sydney to study. And vice versa.

It’s not about gain or drain. It’s about talent circulation — something I hope we can all keep top of mind as we embark on the upcoming admission cycle.

Sherrie Huan is a senior regional manager for global student recruitment & mobility with The University of Sydney, a NACAC member institution. Huan’s work is focused in China and North Asia.


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