Human connections and trusted support: International education lessons from 2022
Simon Emmett20 December 2022
Chief Executive Officer, IDP Connect
As the year draws to a close and students have returned to our shores, I have taken this opportunity to reflect on what we, as the international education sector, learnt this year and how this will shape our actions moving into 2023.
After three years of pandemic-related uncertainty and social isolation, what rose to the surface in 2022 was the basic need for human connection.
In this article, I will share insights into why we are moving away from quick technology fixes that played a role in the pandemic, to a long-term sustainable approach based on the needs of students, and how we, as a sector, can ensure students are best positioned to achieve their life-changing goals.
Technology to enhance human connection, not replace it
Throughout the pandemic, our industry showed resilience and creativity.
When travel was restricted, institution representatives could no longer sit across the table from a student and their parents and have real conversations about what to expect with this brave new chapter.
Our institution partners needed us more than ever to be on the ground, supporting students and relaying their needs.
Understandably, with international mobility limited, our industry also looked to new models to attract international students.
Technology-based solutions that connected institutions to a network of agents emerged as an easy option for recruitment to continue. While the models lacked end-to-end student support, they did provide institutions with access to volume during a period of uncertainty.
Our latest research revealed that, even though students are now able to pursue their in-person overseas education with more choice, they are facing new challenges when they arrive onshore. Having a place to turn to for advice on navigating life in a new country is critical.
What we learnt, which is something we always knew, is that students and institutions value having trusted and experienced agents that can ensure that students receive advice from experts who have the student’s needs and objectives at the core of the service model.
Providing this end-to-end support is not a nice-to-have, it is arguably the key to a successful outcome for both students and institutions.
As our world reopened, our challenge at IDP was to scale our human-centric services to help more students, across more channels, navigate their application challenges amid country visa backlogs, and as I’ll explain later, equip them to deal with new challenges when they arrive onshore.
We’ve continued to invest in technology and customer research, to ensure our trusted human connections on a global scale are strengthened.
We also shifted our services to a true hybrid model that moved administrative processes like document scanning to a smartphone app, giving our counsellors and students more time for the important conversations that matter.
FastLane – our application system that allows students to fast-track their application and institutions to target their ideal students through more efficient admissions – is an ideal demonstration of technology creating closer, stronger and easier connections.
And now, our teams can use the insights from our leading digital platform to help students gain acceptance into the right course, faster.
Pleasingly for us, students responded favourably to these enhancements. Across the board, students showed their trust in IDP, with our global metric for measuring satisfaction (Net Promoter Score) increasing a further 4 points across the year.
This response from students has given us confidence that our strategy, which centres around human connections and using technology to improve that experience - not the other way around - is the right thing for our students, teams and partners.
This approach has infused our growth strategy. Our growing counselling teams around the world are expanding our presence, ensuring more students receive the best possible guidance, and more institutions can achieve an on-the-ground understanding of our students’ needs.
Being there for our students when and how they need us
This importance of support and connection was reinforced by students when we released our Emerging Futures II research in October 2022.
The research, which canvassed the views of more than 11,000 students, painted a complex picture of student intentions, as students prioritised return on investment and quality of education.
For the first time, the research also looked at the experience of newly-enrolled students, comparing prospective student expectations with the reality of studying overseas.
While most students who had commenced studies were positive about their experience, there were trends across all destinations around financial support, and juggling the demands of work and study expectations.
The research also identified a correlation between poor mental health and students working either fewer than 10 hours per fortnight or more than 40 hours a fortnight, as well as those living alone or off campus.
Mental health issues were also found to be impacting students’ ability to succeed academically, with three-quarters stating that it had impacted their ability to study.
To me, this hit home. And we are committed to doing something about it.
Empowering students to thrive
Next year IDP will launch Thrive, a new program that will be piloted in Australia, to connect students to mentors, services and people they trust when they arrive to study.
The most important part of Thrive is introducing students to peer-to-peer support communities so they can connect with others who have walked in their shoes.
Thrive is one of the many enhancements to student well-being that I am proud to see IDP implementing next year.
While I believe there is more we can do, there are many other organisations and institutions introducing quality services that I hope will support more students in achieving their goals.
This year, as we came back together for face-to-face events, I was reminded that we are united in our goal to help determined people change their lives through education.
Now we are in mostly a post-pandemic world with new challenges, our sector has a responsibility to respond to the changing needs of students, and the opportunity to work together to advance the support we offer them at every stage of their education journey.
The role we play in connecting students to international opportunities has the potential to transform their lives and positively impact their wider communities.
I can’t wait to work with you next year to do more to make sure these global citizens are in a position to truly thrive.