What are the best practices in sponsored student recruitment and support?

What are the best practices in sponsored student recruitment and support?

By Luke Sikorski Director of Sponsor Partnerships & Engagement
INTO GMU Interior Students In Classroom In Front Of Whiteboard 2 28991 1

Luke Sikorski, INTO’s Director of Sponsor Partnerships & Engagement for the US, is presenting at the NAFSA Annual Conference taking place in New Orleans during the last week of May 2024. He will be joined by a panel of three other industry professionals presenting on the topic of ‘Best Practices in Sponsored Student Recruitment and Support’. Here he shares his insights on the evolving dynamics of sponsored student recruitment. 

The sponsored student landscape is quite fascinating as most scholarship programs are built around longer-term economic development goals. It always is heartwarming to know the small part we play in contributing to both the education and overall labor force that will grow economies. It can be overwhelming to know where and when to start building a strategy from scratch, so I recommend focusing on the following: 

1. Relationships  

Building relationships and partnerships internally across university departments is pivotal to any sponsored student strategy. These partnerships are key to setting up the right support infrastructure and educating all internal stakeholders on the sponsored student landscape and how various markets operate. This, in turn, can provide context around the flexibilities needed at times during the admissions process, the payment structure, and the overall support and reporting structure needed for the sponsor. A good student experience will always maximize chances of returning cohorts year after year.  

Externally, relationships with cultural offices and other resources, such as EducationUSA, can help in learning about the overall key sponsor markets. This can include the selectivity of universities, what majors are approved, and so much more. Before investing money in any recruitment efforts, one should exhaust all means in connecting with individuals who can provide an overall understanding of the market and how the various scholarship programs are contributing to longer-term development goals.  

Cultural missions, embassies, and EducationUSA can even help provide warm introductions directly with scholarship providers and help a university narrow down programs they should target based on their overall profile. They may not directly influence recruitment or building a pipeline, but they do serve as a gateway to those that do. Additionally, if you are an institution that works with agents, they can be pivotal in being an on-the-ground representation of your institution. They can help market your university in a local way, help connect an institution with local schools, provide application support, and even provide needed market intelligence.  

2. Saudi Arabia should be a primary market, but it isn’t the only one  

The entire scholarship market in Saudi Arabia is tied to Vision 2030, which is the Kingdom’s long-term roadmap for economic diversification, global engagement, and enhanced quality of life. The largest and primary scholarship program is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, which is managed by the Ministry of Education. This program has four paths, focused on a variety of select majors. Additionally, it is selective in which universities are approved based on ranking. However, there are several scholarship programs in Saudi that are not governed by this selective list, presenting other opportunities for universities who may not be approved for the main Ministry of Education program. These include public universities, the Royal Commission of Al Ula, General Entertainment Authority, TVTC, and the Ministry of Interior to name a few.  

Additionally, a number of other scholarship programs exist across other countries in the Gulf such as Kuwait, the UAE, and Qatar. And outside the Gulf, sponsor partnership opportunities exist for graduate and language programs in Latin America, undergraduate and graduate programs from Indonesia, Thailand, and even across parts of Africa with well-known foundations.  

3. Planning  

From personal experience, one should allow at least 3-5 years before assessing the success of any sponsored student partnership and recruitment strategy. It takes time to set up the needed support structure, research about key markets, analyze what majors/programs to focus on, and establishing key relationships in-market and with embassies/cultural offices. For planning activities, I recommend starting at least one year out. First, narrow down which markets to focus on and which of your programs to highlight. Second, you start scheduling meetings with embassies/cultural offices and commit to attending key events in the markets you want to focus on.  

After the peak travel season, consistent conversion is needed to keep in touch with potential students and support all parts of the application journey. This is also when those internal relationships on campus are pivotal, as you will need to work with admissions on any flexibilities needed, as well as working closely with the student experience team, and academic staff...It takes a village to successfully build a sponsored student program, but it’s worth it. The perspectives and diversity these students bring to the classroom is second to none.  

Understanding the sponsored student landscape can be overwhelming and daunting. However, I hope this helps start to break down what to focus on when building sponsored students into an institutions’ overall internationalization and partnership strategy. For more information, I recommend viewing a NAFSA resource I helped co-write a few years back that is still relevant today.

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