According to contributors to this article, international interest in land-based courses is on the increase. Hamid Gharda from Writtle College in Chelmsford, Essex, says, “We have a growing number of students from long-established markets studying various equine and animal science programmes, short and long-term floristry courses as well as various disciplines in design focussing on landscape architecture, interior architecture and design and garden design.”
With so many subject areas and a variety of qualification levels, this sector attracts a diverse array of students. Hannah D’Mellow at SRUC Edinburgh says of their courses, “We have had a good variety of international students across our course portfolio in recent years, from Kazakhstani agriculturalists, American horticulturalists, and Chinese sports students, to Tibetan plantsmen. Many of our international students are studying masters courses in animal science or environmental subjects.”
Gharda adds some of their niche courses increasingly attract students from less traditional markets worldwide, “ranging from the Americas through to Afghanistan and right across to India and Thailand, studying unique programmes such as the MSc in Postharvest Technology, which focusses on logistics, cool chain and supply chain of commercial horticulture”.
Changes within source countries have also impacted on enrolments, says Gharda. The largest markets are Norway, Japan and South Korea, with increasing numbers from East and Sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Iraq, Western Europe and Central Asia. “However, there is a gradual change linked to job and career opportunities, government-sponsored schemes to help build knowledge and infrastructure in places like Kurdistan, as well as socio-economic changes meaning interest in subjects has developed sufficiently to allow students from particular backgrounds to study vocational and very specialist programmes,” Gharda says.
In this sector, the key for many providers is developing a niche area of study that develops a good reputation overseas and becomes a marketing tool. D’Mellow says that their Elmwood campus has developed programmes in golf course management and greenkeeping over the last 20 years and the campus, near St Andrews golf course, has now developed an international reputation in this field. “We have three Higher National Diplomas (HND’s) in these areas with degree progression also possible in at least two,” she says. “We attract students from across the EU and internationally onto our programmes. The full-time students in the main come from China.” The HND in Golf Course Management is also available through distance learning.
There is also scope for link-ups with providers in source countries as a means to cater for the overseas demand. D’Mellow reports that the college seized an opportunity to develop links with Chinese students interested in golf course maintenance after gaining funding for 10 years from the R&A a world renowned golf governing body in 2000. She explains, “With this work our profile and reputation grew in this market and the result is we have students who wish to study with us in Scotland.”
Kirsten Mingins at the University of Cumbria in Carlisle also relates that the institution has an international profile due to its specialism in forestry courses. “Our long history of training forest managers has given the National School of Forestry an outstanding reputation in this niche area, supported by the wide range of international research expertise in our staff,” she says. “We offer a recognised accreditation to people wishing to work in this sector and a flexible and supportive environment for them to develop their skills and experience.” She adds, “Currently our largest international student nationality is Cypriot. We have had large numbers of students from Nepal in the past supported by international development funding, and we hope that such training opportunities will continue in the future.”
When it comes to marketing overseas, many land-based course providers rely on their reputations in certain specialist fields, as well as word of mouth and links with other educational institutions to promote their offerings. Hannah D’Mellow at SRUC in Edinburgh says, “We are developing this area. We work with the universities who currently award our degree and MSc courses the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow.”
However, others use a variety of approaches. Hamid Gharda from Writtle College in Chelmsford, Essex, says, “The college uses a variety of tried and tested methods to counsel prospective students. We participate at a select few international exhibitions and we work very closely with recent graduates and agents. We use different means for different markets as we have to adapt to what works in a particular place. For example in the Far East, social media and online content is more important than face-to-face meetings with institutional staff. However, in Kurdistan, meeting the international office staff and taking home a prospectus is key to the decision making process.”
Meanwhile, Kirsten Mingins adds, “The University of Cumbria markets itself at student fairs and through agents and advertising, however, with our land-based courses the most effective marketing is currently through personal contacts that our academic staff in the National School of Forestry and Centre for Wildlife Conservation have with organisations and institutions overseas.”