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Rich in diversity, dynamic economies; combined with youthful populations: there has never been a better time to connect!

The Middle East, Africa (MEA) and Turkey are by no means ‘one size fits all.’ This is a complex and diverse part of the world with contrasting education expenditures, varying degrees of complexity in regulatory landscapes and where face-to-face relationships carry much weight. Marketing strategies which prove fruitful in one country, may require an entirely different approach in another. Taking a bespoke view and listening to our destination managers across the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, the following article hopes to share some useful ‘tips and tricks’ to consider when recruiting in the region, ensuring long term and sustainable growth for UK HE in an increasingly competitive market. 

Despite the region’s many contrasts, one thing MEA and Turkey do share in common are youthful populations, with over 70% under the age of 30, which may seem desirable when compared to Europe’s ageing populations, but also brings challenges if not properly managed. The ‘youth bulge’ the region is currently experiencing has resulted in the highest youth unemployment globally as countries struggle to absorb young people into the workforce. Hence, why higher education is not only important in terms of creating an educated and skilled workforce; it also serves to stem the flow of young people entering the workforce and manage unemployment levels. 

The UK remains the destination of choice for many in MEA and Turkey. In return, it offers UK HE access to more than 20 different nationalities. The region is a blend of self-funded and sponsored students. However, budgetary constraints must also be taken into account. For example, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest education expenditures in the world and the Two Holy Mosques Scholarship Programme provides sponsorship for study abroad. Similar sponsorship programmes are offered in Kuwait and the UAE. However, these countries are also home to large expat populations who are self-funding and will be looking for more economical / affordable study options. Iran, Turkey, and Egypt are also ‘price sensitive’ markets and will be looking to institutions which offer affordability, good return on investment, post-study work opportunities and internships as well as scholarships.  

Nigeria and Pakistan currently account for the largest share of international students choosing to study in the UK, followed by Saudi Arabia. However, this is a fluid situation; the picture is likely to look quite different in 2024 with the UK’s change in government policy with the removal of visas allowances for dependents. The impact of this change is already being seen in Nigeria, with students rushing to be part of the last eligible cohort before January 2024, when this policy comes into effect. Canada and Australia will likely see increased demand from Nigeria in the coming year as they continue to offer flexible visas which permit dependents, while net migration from this cohort to the UK will begin to drop as a result of these changes. 

UK institutions see much larger footprints, in terms of international student recruitment, from Nigeria and Pakistan compared to other countries within the region. While these markets provide a steady stream of international students overseas annually, it is essential UK institutions expand their reach more equitably across the region. UK HE should reflect the regions diversity within their student body and avoid overreliance on any one country, particularly in light of recent currency devaluations and shifting political goal posts in relation to visas changes.   

Diversification is key. Casting a wide net and implementing a range of tools when planning your recruitment strategy is essential. Moreover, Gen Z watches approximately 2-hours of online digital video daily. To effectively engage with future students from this region, where over 90% of people have access to the internet, smart digital marketing campaigns should play an integral role in your recruitment strategy; two fifths of students from this region cite social media as the main influence on their study abroad choice. We’ve been speaking to the best people in ‘the know’ our colleagues on the ground, to find out what works and what doesn’t in the region and how best to connect with their Gen Z audience.  

Ten Tips & Tricks

  1. Be visual and excited about your brand: share photos, student reviews, animated short videos & testimonials which can provide an inside look at your institution; use GIFS and emojis (sensitive to cultural avoids), virtual campus tours that highlight facilities alongside student well-being and student safety  

  2. Have effective digital marketing strategy and strong social media presence: connect through TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp; onboard important influencers in the region and connect with their followers and potential students; use competitions or incentives to engage students and don’t forget parents and mature students by connecting with this audience on LinkedIn 

  3. Get involved and be present at recruitment fairs: face-to-face relationships are highly valued in this part of the world for building trusted partnerships and is often a prerequisite of doing business, particularly in countries like Pakistan. Presence at recruitment fairs is one way to get know a country, understand its cultural values and show key decision makers you care enough to show up 

  4. Demonstrate your institution’s unique selling points: scholarships, bursaries, great in-country student support, help finding accommodation, peer mentorships, clubs and societies. Bring your academics and give taster sessions on what your institutions offer; allow students to put a face to your institution  

  5. Work with Ministries of Education: get on their list of approved institutions—scholarships are often subject to this—find out how by connecting with the local cultural attaché and maintain good relationships with sponsoring bodies (KSA is a 75% sponsored market)  

  6. Get personal: offer a one-to-one session—in-person or virtually— where students can connect directly with someone from your institution to discuss the course  

  7. Know your market: countries like Iran need opportunities for virtual and hybrid engagement e.g., virtual recruitment fairs and use platforms such as Telegram, Instagram, Dideo.ir and WeChat to connect with their audience. Recognise markets which are price sensitive and may need more flexible payment plans 

  8. Target international schools that offer British or international curriculums: don’t forget the large expat populations living there who will leave secondary school with international qualifications that can align seamlessly to the UK, but do not have access to sponsorships so may require incentives or discounted fees  

  9. Be flexible on entry requirements: recognise both academic and industry experience as well as in-country qualifications when considering parity; be flexible on English language requirements – offer support to develop language skills  

  10. Remember your best advocates are your students: encourage use of peer-to-peer platforms such as The Ambassador Platform (TAP) where potential students can hear first-hand accounts from peers in their language. Reputation is everything so avoid course cancellations; slow CAS confirmation; have quick turnaround on applications and respond timely to counsellor and student enquiries. Remember this is your first interaction with a student and efficiency and organisation creates confidence 

The value of in-person engagement in the region should not be underestimated

Finally, the value of in-person engagement in the region should not be underestimated. It is crucial for sustainable growth, building trusted partnerships and gaining access to markets. Attendance at recruitment fairs offers the chance to meet with key decision makers, learn about the local culture, and show your institution is genuinely interested and cares by being present. Fairs help to raise the profile of universities among students, where they can find out about ranking, location, safety, subjects, affordability and scholarships. It is essential to have active engagement in the markets. IDP MEA Expo offers a platform where institutions can interact with local partners and potential students. The Expo is a major event run twice a year and sees anything from 300 to 1500 prospective students attending, depending on the cities/countries.  

Recruitment fairs with places still available! 

Saudi Arabia: 4th – 7th October (limited spaces) 

Iran: 9th October 2023 

Lebanon: 11th October 2023 

Egypt: 16th October 2023 

Turkey: 19th – 21st October 2023 

Pakistan: 22nd Oct – 2nd November 

To find out how your institution can participate in the region’s upcoming student recruitment fairs, reach out to our Senior Events and Marketing officer, Ruby Jamison: ruby.jamison@idp.com  

With IDP’s recent integration with Intake, we now have over 90 counsellors working on the ground throughout the Middle East, Africa and Turkey. To find out how IDP can support your recruitment strategy and expand your reach within the region, reach out to our international team: internationalclientteam@idp-connect.com

Gemma Smith author image
Gemma Smith12 September 2023