Sixteen months ago, I wrote an article entitled Africa can be a top foreign student destination – Here’s how in which I argued that a BBC report which stated that the University of Edinburgh could lose up to 25% of its annual income of £1bn as a result of COVID-19, with the single biggest challenge being the likelihood of a large drop in international students, some of whom pay tuition fees of around £30,000 (US$37,300) a year.
That was then. What is the situation as 2021 nears an end?
A September 2021 article entitled “Mapping COVID-19’s impact on global student mobility” argues that students are losing patience with COVID-19’s disruptive effect on their studies and career goals and that with the increasing availability of vaccines, there is a diminishing risk of travelling abroad and attending in-person classes.
The article argues further (quoting QS 2021 findings) that 42% of international students would feel comfortable travelling overseas for study once campuses are open and in‐person instruction has resumed.
In October 2021 therefore, international student activity can be pursued vigorously again and with Rwanda’s high academic standards and rigorous quality controls, it remains a popular destination in Africa for international students looking for affordable and high-quality international education.
A Rwandan degree, diploma or certificate is globally recognised as being equivalent to those obtained from the Francophone or Commonwealth countries.
The 4Ps of International Student Recruitment – Plot, Pull, Pursue and Position For Rwandan Universities to benefit fully from international student enrollment, they would need to pursue the 4Ps enumerated next:
1. Plot a Global Engagement Strategy
2. Pull-in International Collaborators
3. Pursue an integrated Communications Approach
4. Position your website as your bona fide international gateway
Plot a Global Engagement Strategy
International student enrolment at Rwandan Universities will increase if these Universities consider taking a holistic approach to global engagement. Vicky Lewis in a May 2021 article entitled “A good time to rethink global engagement strategies?” argued that universities should go beyond commercially driven international student recruitment strategies, rely less on traditional, input-based metrics, such as international student enrolments, and on ‘looking good in the rankings; and take a more long term view of global engagement. Interestingly Vicky Lewis also argues in her article that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on university finances and created a huge challenge in stabilising those finances.
My take on Vicky’s arguments is that international student recruitment strategies matter, looking good’ in the rankings also matters, but Universities need to do more in a world that has recalibrated its priorities post COVID-19.
Universities in Rwanda must therefore design and deploy relevant global engagement strategies to improve their international student enrollments and ultimately their financial viability while remaining globally relevant.
An acceptable global engagement strategy will have for instance a clear situational analysis of the current international outlook of the University, ratio of international students and faculty to local students and faculty, etc. and this situational analysis leads to the formulation of an international ambition statement for the University.
The ambition sets the stage for the delineation of global engagement objectives for the University with quantifiable international student enrolment targets as an example. A good example of global engagement strategy objective is one from the University of Surrey which reads thus:
● Strengthen our international profile and reputation and increase recognition for our achievements by leveraging engagement from our international stakeholders, supporting our education and research goals, including increased international recruitment of staff, students, and postgraduate researchers.
The objectives lead to the key activities to deliver, and the development of measures of success. Rwandan Universities must also have strong marketing and institutional advancement teams or strong global marketing expertise in international programme offices to ensure that all targets and key activities stipulated in the global engagement strategy are met.
Pull-in International Collaborators
Increasing the global impact and profile of Rwandan Universities and subsequently, their international student enrolment will only happen if they also deploy current international faculty and students as disciples of their university brands and employ them as evangelists to sell the gospel of Rwandan Universities to the countries these international students come from.
Who can sell the University of Kigali better to a Gambian student than a Wolof speaking Gambian student currently enrolled at the university? Who can sell the University of Kigali better to a Ghanaian Ewe speaking graduate of Achimota High School in Ghana than a Ghanaian student currently enrolled at the University of Kigali?
Rwandan Universities must also actively explore MOUs with foreign Universities to get them to consider sending their students to Rwanda for short study abroad programmes so that Rwandan Universities can earn revenue from these arrangements.
After all, the Study International website argued recently that forecasted to become the “Singapore of Africa”, the Central African country of Rwanda has emerged as an up-and-coming education hub for international students.
Rwandan Universities can also employ international student recruitment agencies where these agents provide proper value for money propositions.
Pursue an integrated Communications Approach
Adopting a flexible but integrated marketing communications approach, including digital and brick-and-mortar strategies will be crucial to higher international student enrolment for Rwandan Universities. Brick-and-mortar communications strategies include University Open Days, radio, and TV advertising, print advertising campaigns etc.
Other effective brick-and-mortar communications strategies include letting University students and alumni become University ambassadors and attending education fairs to recruit international students.
International students and alumni can also be encouraged to promote Rwandan Universities on digital platforms.
Rwandan Universities should get existing international students and alumni to promote Rwandan University brands by telling their stories on various social media platforms.
Rwandan Universities must create compelling content and leverage their social media platforms and get it in front of the right people at the right time. According to the full fabric website University visibility can be boosted by
● Promoting international study stories via paid ads on social media and targeting specific countries, states, or regions. Potential international students can also be targeted based on their interactions with the University of Kigali website for instance.
● Universities in Rwanda can also create a hub on their university websites dedicated to featuring content, resources, and events for international students – the University of Cambridge does this well.
All University integrated communication strategies should however be crafted on the back of a marketing communications audit. This will ensure that Universities get the best return on all their marketing communications investments. Marketing communications should be targeted and measurable for it to reach their fullest potential.
Position your website as your bona fide international gateway
I have found by experience that Universities sometimes get caught up in social media deployments so much, they tend to forget that a website is still your permanent living address.
While some university websites are aesthetically incomplete and factually poor, you will find these same Universities falling over themselves to load one thousand photos on Instagram and University marketing videos on YouTube. This is clearly an anomalous situation that must be rectified immediately.
Rwandan Universities should conduct urgent website audits and strive to optimise their websites for international student recruitment. Optimising websites for international students should form part of every university’s international student recruitment strategy and paying close attention to landing pages and contact forms is also paramount for converting more visitors to Rwandan University websites into qualified leads.
According to the full fabric website, bearing in mind the average website users’ attention span is eight seconds, landing pages should include key information about university programmes in a readable way.
The website argues further that University websites should minimise the use of complex language and colloquialisms to make text accessible for an international audience. When designing landing pages and contact forms, universities are encouraged to try to see the experience from the prospect’s point of view.
Finally, the website argues that using visual elements like infographics and videos to explain things like tuition fees, accommodation and programme structure can benefit both domestic and international students. Understanding these elements will make the decision-making process easier, so potential international students will choose Rwandan Universities repeatedly.
So Why the University of Kigali?
First, Rwanda, by virtue of its ambitious solar energy plans and environmental entrepreneurial opportunities, is gaining international candidates for its university programmes.
Additionally, Rwanda is a country that is attractive to international students because as home to some of the world’s most beautiful national parks, it is Ideal for study breaks.
Second, the University of Kigali is an excellent international study destination because of its excellent location in the centre of Kigali next to the Kigali Heights and opposite the Kigali Business Centre, with a branch in Musanze, close to major tourist attractions like the Rwanda National Park
Third, the University of Kigali currently has a diverse international student population with students drawn from thirty-one countries.
Some of the countries UoK international students come from include Burundi, Angola, Cameroon, Centre African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Gabon, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The University, therefore, has tremendous experience in managing international students and is constantly refining its service propositions to deliver enjoyable student experiences to make international student stay in Rwanda, truly memorable.
Finally, the University of Kigali has a truly international faculty and administrative staff with representation from countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria.
The international character of the University of Kigali makes the University uniquely positioned to give a truly international experience to all its students.
After working in teaching, research, review and accreditation capacities for thirty-five Universities in Africa, I can announce unequivocally that there is no perfect University in Africa.
I can vouch for the University of Kigali however, by virtue of the fact that the University is currently undergoing a renaissance with a renewed focus on innovation and enhanced student experiences. In light of this fact, there is no better time to the University of Kigali.
Dr. Robert Hinson is an Award-Winning Professor of Marketing who was recently ranked the #1 Marketing Scholar in Africa according to the AD Scientific Index Report 2021