Almost 300,000 international students are studying at Canadian education institutions, 21 per cent of whom enrol at “other post-secondary institutions” such as colleges. This is encouraging for a sector that has worked hard to get itself noticed internationally. Even so, some colleges feel that they remain a hidden jewel of the Canadian education system. Lina Perrotta at Herzing College Canada in Montreal, QC, says, “Many agents are not fully aware of the opportunities available in Canada, [and] it is the responsibility of the individual institutions to market their brands overseas.”
“The Canadian education system is very diverse so a national marketing strategy may perform some general branding, but it cannot provide the detail necessary for agents to clearly understand the institutional differences,” agrees Mark Herringer at North Island College (NIC) in Gold River, BC.
Gabriela Facchini, Regional Manager, International, at Georgian College in Barrie, ON, reinforces this by saying. “More needs to be done [on promoting Canadian colleges]. Few agents truly understand the difference between colleges and universities in Canada. The word ‘college’ is problematic because it means different things in different countries.”
In Canada, community college usually refers to public polytechnics, applied technological institutes and applied arts institutes. These colleges usually provide continual education on more technical or vocational career choices. At Georgian College, for example, 80 per cent of programmes have a work practicum. “Our graduates graduate with diplomas or applied bachelor degrees with Canadian work experience,” explains Gabriela. “The work experience is what opens the doors of opportunity to the students.”
Jos Nolle at Seneca College in Toronto, ON agrees. “Canadian colleges offer job-related, applied higher education and training programmes that prepare students for careers. College graduates therefore have a higher job placement rate than university grads.”
Studying at a college has other advantages too, such as smaller class sizes than at universities and cheaper tuition fees. “Starting post-secondary education in community colleges makes sense,” asserts Gabriela. “Students save money, get hands-on practical learning with the latest technologies and equipment in smaller classes with more personalised attention, get work experience and can transition later to more studies in university.”
So what are Canadian colleges doing to raise their international profile? While agents fulfil a crucial recruitment role for many colleges (see box below), Mark points out, “One single [marketing] element alone is not successful without the others.” NIC uses a whole range of marketing tools including agents, websites, direct recruitment, school visits, in-country seminars and presentations, social media and word-of-mouth.
Sheridan College in Oakville, ON, also uses a variety of student recruitment tools for attracting overseas students website, social media, targeted media campaigns, alumni events, recruitment fairs and agents. Alexander Prokopenko at the college points out that the effectiveness of a campaign is also dependent on the target market itself. “Each individual market has its dynamics and specifics; not all tactics work everywhere equally,” he says. “There are also different approaches for undergraduate and for postgraduate studies. We monitor trends and changes in international student marketing, measure and evaluate what works and what doesn’t work.”
Fine-tuning their marketing strategy, Okanagan University College in Kelowna, BC, has stopped going to education fairs “due to their lack of results and high costs involved”, says Russel Boris at the college. “We now concentrate on agent relationships.”
By all accounts the message is getting out there. Nadia Ramseier at Algonquin College in Ottawa, ON, observes that “agents are becoming more aware of the opportunities at Canadian colleges, and the value of applied education in general”. She concludes, “I have been in the industry for 15-plus years, and Canadian colleges have never been so popular!”
For many colleges in Canada, agents already play an important role in their overseas marketing, and international student numbers are growing. For example, at Georgian College in Barrie, ON, overseas enrolments have doubled in the last three years, according to Gabriela Facchini, to account for around 10 per cent of their total intake. Alongside attending fairs, holding educational seminars and their website, the college uses agents. “Using agents is our most successful tool,” reports Gabriela. “Agents understand their markets and the cultural differences that exist between their clients and Canadian culture and Canada’s post-secondary institutions. They are in a unique position to be able to properly prepare students to come fully informed so that they don’t have unexpected surprises or unrealistic expectations.”
Geoffrey Dalton, Director of Cambrian International, Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology in Sudbury, ON, agrees, saying the beauty of using agents is that they “understand the students’ needs and have influence in the decision making process of the students and their parents”. At Herzing College Canada in Montreal, QC, Director of International Relations Lina Perrotta reports that they are now increasingly working with agents. “We are always open to new trends in marketing,” she adds. “For now, we are planning to attend different education fairs and agent conferences.”
Nurturing the agent-school partnership is important. “Agent relationships are a priority in our strategic plan,” says Nadia Ramseier at Algonquin College in Ottawa, ON, “and we make concerted efforts to build long-lasting, loyal relationships. We attend agent workshops, visit offices, provide fast and constructive replies [and] work with our partners whenever is possible to help them with their recruitment efforts.” Nadia adds, “They provide access to students that we wouldn’t have on our own, nurture leads that we wouldn’t have the time to do, convince students/parents with culturally appropriate arguments it is like having so many connected and culturally aware staff members scattered around the world.”