Terrorists terrorizing student recruitment in higher education. What can we do?

“Universities rather than individually, must now act collectively”

Terrorism isn’t just about an attack happening in a specific place in a specific country. It does not end when the shooting or bombing ends. The knock off effects for almost every sector in the country must be considered. Regarding higher education, increasing terrorist attacks are changing the perceptions of countries for prospective students around the world. France, Belgium, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been the latest victims. In other countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan, it is ongoing. Studying abroad has been such a trend throughout the years that universities rather than individually, must now act collectively and figure out how they must get the message across to prospective students to assure them that studying in their host country will be safe for them. Many prospective student parents are now opting to send their children abroad for postgraduate studies rather than undergraduate. They cannot bear the thought of sending their children for three or four years in such an environment. The media doesn’t help either. For somebody living in Asia for example, if all they see are bombs going off in Turkey on the news, then what type of image does that leave in their minds?

First things first, the golden rule in marketing higher education is to always be honest about what you say. This is a life changing decision for the prospective student you are talking to, you can’t afford to sell lies and it could be very damaging for your career and the institution in the long term. If there is a serious threat in or around your institution, then you cannot hide this but instead stress as much as you can that the university is doing as much as it can on improving safety on and around campus. If your institution is not affected directly by an attack, or is in another city or a neighbouring country from where an attack took place then your job is a little easier.

I class universities into the below categories when an attack occurs;

Highly Affected: Universities in the city of where an attack has taken place

Mildly Affected: Universities in other cities but within the host country of an attack

Slightly Affected: Universities in neighbouring countries of an attack

In the event of a terrorist attack, if the university you work for falls into one of these categories then I’m afraid your institution has taken a knock on its image and its attractiveness has somewhat decreased as a result, despite the attack having no direct aim towards the university itself. This type of unwanted situation can demolish a university’s efforts in international marketing and branding very quickly hence they need a strategy to be able to overcome the aftermath of such an event in the best way possible. Besides this, when we look through the prospective student and parents’ perspective, faith needs to be restored as quickly as possible to be able to consider studying in a country affected by terrorism. Below are some strategies that some universities have begun to implement to bring any negative consequences to a minimum either before or after an attack has occurred.

“Universities now have to find a way to market themselves as a safe haven”

Universities whose destinations have been hit by an attack or not, now have the struggle of getting the message of safety across for prospective students parents. “Will my child be 100% safe in that country?” “What is the chance of an attack happening?” “Will I be able to sleep comfortably while my child is abroad?” are just some of the questions that go through the parents’ mind. Rather than bragging about the achievements of the university, universities now have to find a way to market themselves as a safe haven. Perhaps an obvious way could be social media. Facebook has launched live video streaming, which could be used frequently to show live events as well as everyday life including the safe environment on campus. The age of Facebook users has increased in the last 5 years dramatically which means that the chances of parents coming across your content is high. Today the social media app Snapchat has swept across the Earth and is on millions of young teenagers’ phones. It is becoming an increasing trend among universities as well. Perhaps it could prove to be a tool that can give assurance of safety to students as well as parents as it shows content throughout the day.

“The word “safe” itself has become a key word in visual material of universities”

Universities must also think about how to include safety in their slogans and promotional material. The word “safe” itself has become a key word in visual material of universities. Many of them have begun to design visual material that looks homely or cosy in the library or classroom for example, giving the assumption that the prospective student will feel at home and away from any threat. Videos are also being made in homely settings and then advertised. Universities based in countries that have been affected by terrorism are now looking to increase these efforts through both printed and digital content. However, sometimes the universities’ efforts themselves are not sufficient enough to convince the parents. Another way universities try to go around this is gathering testimonials from current students. They display content on their websites as a reference from an independent source (the student) in the hope that it will be more convincing. This could work, but it depends where it is used. For example, getting a group of students together to form an independent blog about the university and publishing their views there may be more effective than putting it up on the official website of the university. I believe it gives more of a sense of credibility towards what is written, therefore can be more persuasive for the prospective student and the parent.

“Could TV Dramas be a Solution?”

One way that Turkey has tried to work around this is through their many Turkish drama series.  Go to any of the Gulf countries and you will find they are very well known. Turkish embassies have worked hard to get them air time in these countries. These dramas are advertising Turkey in such an attractive way that prospective students develop a dream to study there, despite what is going on. In my visits to these countries I frequently get asked about them, sometimes I get asked about the drama itself rather than the university I work for which can be annoying especially when there are people queuing to talk to me behind. These dramas are aired in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Bangladesh as well. Perhaps other countries looking to increase their awareness could seek such a solution, too.

“International Students = Culture, diversity, ideas and dollar signs for some”

Today, universities have come to realize the importance of recruiting international students. They bring new cultures, diversity and ideas. They become university ambassadors after graduation. For many universities that focus more on quantity rather than quality, they are viewed as dollar signs. As the competition in Higher Education gets ever so fierce, the strategies above could save your institution from a lot of headache in the future in the event of an attack while minimizing the risk of damage to your brand.

Please feel free to comment if you have any views on this.

Good Luck!

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